Research Article

A rechargeable zinc-air battery based on zinc peroxide chemistry

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Science  01 Jan 2021:
Vol. 371, Issue 6524, pp. 46-51
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb9554

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When two is better than four

Batteries based on the reaction of zinc and oxygen have been used for more than a century, but these have been primary (that is, nonrechargeable) cells. These batteries use an alkaline electrolyte and require a four-electron reduction of oxygen to water, which is a slow process. Sun et al. show that with the right choice of nonalkaline electrolyte, the battery can operate using a two-electron zinc-oxygen/zinc peroxide chemistry that is far more reversible. By making the electrolyte hydrophobic, water is excluded from the near surface of the cathode, thus preventing the four-electron reduction. These batteries also show higher energy density and better cycling stability.

Science, this issue p. 46


Rechargeable alkaline zinc-air batteries promise high energy density and safety but suffer from the sluggish 4 electron (e)/oxygen (O2) chemistry that requires participation of water and from the electrochemical irreversibility originating from parasitic reactions caused by caustic electrolytes and atmospheric carbon dioxide. Here, we report a zinc-O2/zinc peroxide (ZnO2) chemistry that proceeds through a 2e/O2 process in nonalkaline aqueous electrolytes, which enables highly reversible redox reactions in zinc-air batteries. This ZnO2 chemistry was made possible by a water-poor and zinc ion (Zn2+)–rich inner Helmholtz layer on the air cathode caused by the hydrophobic trifluoromethanesulfonate anions. The nonalkaline zinc-air battery thus constructed not only tolerates stable operations in ambient air but also exhibits substantially better reversibility than its alkaline counterpart.

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