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The US Naval Research Laboratory is currently exploring future potential uses for its zinc-based batteries that provide a safer, reusable alternative to other types of batteries. The lab’s battery, moving out of technology readiness level one, uses a 3-D sponge of the metal, making the battery rechargeable.The development of zinc-based batteries would provide the US Navy an option instead of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are fire-prone and have been banned for some applications on Navy ships and other military platforms. 

The sponge, a “porous network of metallic zinc,” is only 30 to 40 percent dense, Ryan DeBlock, a researcher with the surface chemistry division at U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, told “What this does is it takes the current that you’re applying to the battery, and instead of spreading it on a flat surface, you’re spreading out all over that internal sponge area,” he said. “This allows us to actually use the zinc batteries in a rechargeable way instead of a one-and-done like a AA battery.”

The zinc-based batteries have several advantages, he said. Zinc is inexpensive and widely available, so the batteries cost less and don’t rely on more complex regional supply chains, whereas the lithium for lithium-ion batteries is sourced largely from South America. Another major advantage is that the research lab’s battery isn’t flammable. “You can’t have fires on boats or in subs,” he said.

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