Powering the Future

Need a recharge? Scientists from ECU have built a better battery that could last much longer than your store-bought pack. But, there's a catch.

Thomas Crow
Thomas Crow
Freelance science writer
Powering the Future
Image credit: Vardan Papikyan via Unsplash

Our electronic world is full of batteries, and WA’s renewable future may rely on them too.

And with great reliance there comes a need for great quality.

So how do we make batteries better? Researchers from the Edith Cowan University may just have the answer – in the form of a new zinc-air battery.

It’s cheap, safe and sustainable.


Currently, lithium-ion batteries are the most common battery type powering our devices.

They took over from the older zinc batteries during the 1990s. Now, zinc’s making a comeback.

“The new generation of zinc-air batteries are secondary batteries, [also known as] rechargeable batteries,” says Dr Muhammad Rizwan Azhar, an ECU chemical engineer who was involved in the creation of the new product.

“The old generation were primary batteries. Once they depleted, you would throw them out. This is the most significant difference.”

Energy researchers are revisiting zinc batteries because they’re cheaper and less vulnerable to overheating or catching fire – a serious weakness of lithium.

“Zinc batteries can store more energy than lithium-ion,” says Muhammad.

“There are fewer safety concerns with their storage and use too.”


The team set out to find a zinc-air battery that could compete with the energy storage of lithium batteries.

“Australia’s well placed to produce zinc-air batteries,” says Muhammad.

We produce 20% of the world’s zinc supply. It’s abundant and easy for us to process.”

We’re also the world’s largest lithium producer, so we’re the ideal country for battery research.

Although rechargeable batteries are significantly less wasteful to use, designing an efficient one can double the amount of chemistry involved.

There’s at least one chemical reaction that releases energy, and at least one separate reaction to store it again.


Zinc-air batteries can store around 500 watt-hours per kilogram.

That’s nearly three times more than lithium-ion batteries and 10 times greater than lead-acid batteries.

The trade-off is that, because air isn’t a good conductor, the battery may last a long time but it won’t be able to power larger devices.

“[Manufacturers] have already trialled zinc-air batteries at full commercial scale using other materials,” says Muhammad.

“There were some issues with these batteries, which is why we’re trying to improve their performance.”


The team at ECU improved the battery design by combining different chemical structures. Then they applied them in layers – sort of like a lamington.

View Larger

Adding extra chemicals improved the battery’s performance.

Image credit: Arafat et al.
Adding extra chemicals improved the battery’s performance.

The first structure is a spongy crystal lattice of cobalt, nitrogen and carbon called ZIF-67.

The treated spongy interior is very conductive and can easily supply electrons to oxygen.

The outer crumbly layer is made of cobalt, nickel, iron and oxygen, called layered double hydroxide.

This metal coating is less conductive but can take electrons from oxygen groups.

These two structures complement each other. They allow the zinc-air battery cell to efficiently supply 1.48 volts. That’s roughly the amount of an AA or AAA battery.


Muhammad says manufacturers can link multiple battery cells to provide more voltage to devices.

We already do this with existing batteries.

By placing them positive to negative, the voltage of the batteries adds together. Larger devices need more batteries because they require a higher voltage to run.

Season 5 Episode 10 GIF by SpongeBob SquarePants


Zinc is unlikely to completely remove lithium from batteries, but it could ease global demand for the metal.

“Lithium is a finite resource, and we are rapidly consuming natural deposits,” says Muhammad.

“We need to look for alternatives to lithium … We are looking for industry to apply our research to the commercial scale and become a world leader in the production of zinc-air batteries.”

Thomas Crow
About the author
Thomas Crow
Thomas Crow is an Australian science writer. He has a background in professional writing, biochemistry and genetics. He writes for Australian and New Zealand research institutes and publications like Crikey. He's a horror and gothic fantasy fan. He thinks of himself as a gardener but scores of dead plants beg to differ.
View articles
Thomas Crow is an Australian science writer. He has a background in professional writing, biochemistry and genetics. He writes for Australian and New Zealand research institutes and publications like Crikey. He's a horror and gothic fantasy fan. He thinks of himself as a gardener but scores of dead plants beg to differ.
View articles


We've got chemistry, let's take it to the next level!

Get the latest WA science news delivered to your inbox, every fortnight.


Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.


You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.


Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.


All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.


For more information about using our content, email us:

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy