A new cost-effective battery may significantly boost large-scale energy storage. The initial study of the prototype, published in the prestigious Nature Energy suggests that, when researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory decoded the workings of zinc-manganese, they found a way to dramatically improve batteries without raising costs.

Poor energy storage from batteries continues to hinder countless up-and-coming technologies, including many green energy designs. Poor energy storage is a key problem in the adoption of solar and wind energies, as current batteries are not capable of holding onto enough energy generated during peak times to compensate for lower energy production periods, like at night or when the wind dies down. Researchers around the world have been desperately seeking a way to boost energy storage, and any genuinely new design offers enormous potential.

Zinc-manganese energy storage is not in itself new, but previous testing had found that the batteries lost their ability to hold a charge precipitously over time. Researchers have hypothesized that the battery decline was the result of a process called intercalation, which does occur to some degree in lithium-ion batteries. But this most recent study found that zinc-manganese batteries store energy through chemical conversion, like lead-acid batteries, offering a chance to improve storage.

When zinc-manganese batteries store energy, some of the battery’s manganese dissolves into the electrolyte solution. If this process happens to a large enough extent, the battery loses a substantial amount of its energy storage capability. So the researchers ramped up the concentration of manganese in prototype batteries, they found that they could keep energy storage at around 92 percent of initial volume even after 5,000 cycles.

“This research shows equilibrium needs to be controlled during a chemical conversion reaction to improve zinc-manganese oxide battery performance,” says Jun Liu, a PNNL Laboratory Fellow and co-author of the study, in a lab news release.

“As a result, Zinc-manganese oxide batteries could be a more viable solution for large-scale energy storage than the lithium-ion and lead-acid batteries used to support the grid today,” Liu adds.

The best part about the discovery is that zinc-manganese batteries are affordable and the basic materials abundant. Even major increases in zinc and manganese demand may not stress current supply levels, which is key, because if the discovery is half as important as it seems, there is going to be a lot of demand. And nobody wants to see a breakthrough technology like this one spark zinc and manganese wars around world. No. This may be the real deal.

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