Monthly Archives: October 2020

Zinc Bromine Batteries: Trying to improve energy efficiency above 80%

My experiments using carbon cloth cathodes have helped me construct some decent static Zinc-Bromine batteries. In particular, the CC4 carbon cathodes have been very flexible and have been used throughout most of my experiments. The last experiment I did, with a CC4 cathode previously soaked in a 50% solution of TMPhABr solution and then air dried, have shown a CE=91% with an EE=70% at a charge/discharge current of 5mA, charging to 3000 uAh and discharging to 0.5V.

Coulombic and energy efficiencies as a function of the number of cycles for a pre-treated CC4 cathode (soaked in 50% TMPhABr and air dried) with a 3M solution ZnBr2. Charged to 3000uAh at 5mA, discharged to 0.5V.

Charge/discharge curves for all the cycles in the first figure.

Coupling these cathodes with a ZnBr2 3M solution with 10% PEG200 has allowed me to achieve specific power values in the region of 30-40 Wh/kg – total weight of cell – with more than 40 charge/discharge cycles (see above), without the formation of any Zinc dendrites (which would short batteries after only 10-20 cycles at this charge density in previous battery tests). Higher PEG200 concentrations cause significant increases in the internal resistance of the cell while lower concentrations (<5%) are just not effective at preventing Zinc dendrite formation when using metallic Zinc anodes.

Despite the good results, I have yet to achieve high energy efficiencies, mainly due to a couple of problems. The first is that significant bromine diffusion is happening due to a lot of bromine being formed at the surface of the CC4 cathode without enough presence of TMPhABr to capture it and the second, that the internal resistance of the cell was still significantly high, owing to the significant resistance of the CC4 cathode being used.

First charge/discharge curve for a GFE-1 felt electrode, pre-treated with 10% TMPhABr. Charged/discharged at 5mA, charged to 3000uAh, discharged to 0.5V.

In order to attempt to solve these problems, I have decided to change to a carbon cathode that is both significantly more conductive and possesses a significantly higher surface area compared to CC4. My choice material being the GFE-1 carbon felt. For the first test I have soaked a piece of cathode in 10% TMPhABr and air-dried it before use.

You can see the first charge/discharge curve ever produced in this configuration above. The charging potential is already significantly lower than that of the CC4 electrode and the discharge potential significantly higher, both signs of a markedly lower internal resistance. For this first cycle the Coulombic efficiency was 79% while the energy efficiency was 72%. We’ll see if the CE and EE of this battery improves as its cycled and whether or not this cathode leads to more stable cycling than the CC4 cloth electrodes!

Zinc Bromine Batteries: Solid TMPhABr layers are not the answer

My latest efforts to build higher capacity Zinc-Bromine batteries, have focused on the use of solid TMPhABr layers, because the solubility of TMPhABr is very low in the presence of high concentrations of ZnBr2 (2-4M). The idea by doing this was to provide a relatively stable source of TMPhA+ cations that could be taken to the cathode and be used to form an insoluble perbromide as bromide is reduced to elemental bromine and then sequestered by the quaternary ammonium salt.

Evident formation of perbromide oustide the cathode material due to movement of elemental Bromine to the TMPhABr solid layer.

However, the solubility of TMPhABr is too low for this and what happens is that the cathode mainly generates elemental Bromine, which then flows through the battery and is converted – outside the cathode – into TMPhABr3 as it reaches the TMPhABr solid layers. What happens is that the perbromide is fixed outside the cathode, and only the portion that is in contact with the cathode is ever able to be reduced to contribute to the battery current during the discharge phase while the part that is far away from the cathode becomes “dead capacity” and is never able to be regenerated again.

This is evident by looking at disassembled batteries – see image above – where the yellow/orange perbromide is present across the battery separator, showing that elemental bromine was produced, migrated, reacted with the organic ammonium salt to form the perbromide and was then unable to be recovered because of its distance from the cathode. This is also showed by the loss in both energy and Coulombic efficiencies for batteries that use this solid layer at higher ZnBr2 concentrations, compared with the cells that used fully dissolved ZnBr2 0.5M + TMPhABr 0.25M. The Coulombic efficiency drops from >95% to <80% while the energy efficiency drops from >80% to <70%.

New cell structure proposed, using a cathode material that has been soaked in a 50% w/v solution of TMPhABr.

The best way to implement this solid TMPhABr strategy might actually be to introduce this solid within the structure of the cathode material (see proposed structure above). For this I have prepared a 50% w/v solution of TMPhABr (it is extremely soluble in distilled water), immersed two CC4 cathodes into it and I am now waiting for these to dry. Once they are dry I will be able to place them within batteries and run an experiment – without any solid layer – to see if this actually improves the results.

Zinc Bromine Batteries: Problems at higher capacities with TMPhABr

As you saw on my previous post, I was able to generate pretty decent results with TMPhABr when using Zinc Bromide solutions at 0.5M with an addition of 0.25M of this quaternary ammonium salt. However it is pretty clear that at this concentration of Zinc Bromide the specific energy is too low, so I subsequently tried to reach higher efficiencies by trying higher concentrations of Zinc Bromide with a solid layer of TMPhABr (since at >0.5M of ZnBr2 the solubility drops too much). My experiments were done with the cell configuration showed below. The electrolyte also contained 1% of PEG-200 in order to prevent dendrite formation.

Battery structure for tests shown below.
Charge/discharge curves charging to 2000 uAh at 2mA and discharging to 0.5V at this same current. Last value was CE=86.41% and an EE=68.74%. This electrolyte contained a 2M solution of Zinc Bromide.

These experiments were quite successful, with a Coulombic efficiency of 86.41% and an energy efficiency of 68.74%. The capacity of these devices was increased by 4x over my previous experiments at 0.5M of ZnBr2 showing that the solid layer of TMPhABr does work in order to generate insoluble perbromides within the battery. However the battery performance did start to degrade at around the 10th cycle, so I stopped cycling the above battery to see if I could get better behavior at even higher Zinc Bromide concentrations since the increase in ZnBr2 concentration did show a reduction in the internal resistance of the battery.

Charge/discharge curves for a 3M Zinc Bromide electrolye, where an attempt was made to charge to 5000 uAh and discharge to 0.5V at a current density of 5mA. Highest CE=74.71%, EE=55.76%

The attempt to use higher concentrations at higher current densities were not very successful. Although the capacity was increased to around 10x of my initial battery, the problem was that both the Coulombic and energy efficiencies dropped to unacceptable levels. The charging voltage also saw substantial climbs – reaching almost 2V – which probably created a lot of unwanted reactions. The worst problem was however the zinc dendrite formation, which became apparent after I tried cycles at lower capacity and current density for the same cell. You can see below that at the fourth cycle the charge voltage drops suddenly and then the discharge is extremely inefficient. This is because dendrites have pierced the separator effectively shorting the battery.

Curves where I attempted to charge to 2000 uAh and discharge to 0.5V at 2 mA.

This dendrite issue is one of the most important problems in Zinc-Bromine batteries – both flow and static – and one of the reasons why rechargeable Zinc chemistries have not been massively adopted thus far. If the above batteries are to be practical, I need to find a setup that provides both high capacity – which means a 3M ZnBr2 electrolyte – with the elimination of Zinc dendrites. The addition of PEG-200 helps, but it is clearly not enough to eliminate this issue. Upon opening the above battery, it was evident that dendrites had completely pierced through the entire separator and shorted the electrodes.

One hypothesis I have is that local formation of Zinc dendrites should be hindered by high local TMPhABr concentrations (since they do not form when high amounts of this are dissolved) so a potential solution is to create another solid layer of the TMPhABr next to the Zinc anode (as shown below). I am currently testing the battery configuration shown below to evaluate this hypothesis.

Current testing configuration to attempt to remove Zinc dendrites by a much higher local concentration of TMPhABr close to the Zn anode.
Curve for the above cell charged to 3000 uAh and discharged to 0.5V at 2mA. CE=76.51%, EE=61.01%

Another issue that has been pointed out to be is the absence of additional support electrolyte, so I am planning to test ammonium sulfate at 2M to see how this modifies the behavior of my batteries at these higher capacities. Ammonium ions will turn my battery more acidic, so I am expecting some losses in Coulombic efficiency at higher current densities from a more favorable hydrogen evolution potential.

Zinc Bromine Batteries: Going for high capacity with TMPhABr

The initial tests using TMPhABr have been a complete success. A battery made with 0.5M ZnBr2 + 0.25M TMPhABr charged to 500 uAh and discharged to 0.5V was able to achieve stability past 100 charge/discharge cycles at 2mA and more than 100 charge/discharge cycles at 5mA. There was a significant drop in energy efficiency when going to higher current densities (from 75% at 1mA to 66% at 2mA) but overall the Coulombic efficiency remained high through the entire testing, at values greater than 90% and in some cycles greater than 95%. This was also all using a CC4 carbon cloth cathode, which means I made no effort to optimize the cathode at all. The cell showed a difference of around 50mg between the dry state and discharged wet state, meaning that overall it contained around 30-40uL of solution (I haven’t measured the density of the ZnBr2+TMPhABr so I don’t have an exact answer).

RE: My adventures building a Zinc-Bromine battery
100 charge/discharge cycles at 2mA. Charged to 500 uAh and discharged to 0.5V.
70 charge/discharge cycles at 5mA. Charged to 500 uAh and discharged to 0.5V.

These results are extremely encouraging because they show that the TMPhABr is a way better behaved sequestering agent for bromide relative to TBABr. Most notably the tests also show a lack of performance degradation from Zinc dendrite formation, which was a big problem in the TBABr experiments. The charge/discharge curves are also significantly better behaved with a much longer and more stable “discharge plateau” which implies more stable electrochemical performance. There is also a complete absence of rare shoulders or spikes in the curve, which hint that important additional electrochemical processes are absent.

The CE and EE of the cell are always significantly lower when running the first few cycles, indicating that the formation of some surfaces or species is necessary for the cell to reach peak performance. This is likely due to the need for TMPhABr3-friendly sites to form, as the Br oxidation side is expected to be the rate limited process in this type of device. Since I’m using a Zinc anode, the formation of Zn nucleation sites is not expected to be significantly difficult.

A sample charge/discharge curve measured at 5mA. Notice the long discharge voltage plateau.

The biggest issue right now is that a cell like the above has a really low specific energy (around 2.8 Wh/kg), so a very substantial increase is required to make the above cell viable. I suggested some modifications in one of my last posts but it is clear that a cell with a ZnBr2 concentration lower than 2M is simply not going to be able to provide an adequate density. Given the solubility limitations of TMPhABr, we are unlikely to be able to achieve this using just a mixed solution of this sequestering agent and Zinc bromide.

My idea to solve this problem is to include a layer of solid sequestering agent in the battery and use a saturated solution of TMPhABr in 2M ZnBr2 as an electrolyte. The TMPhABr won’t be dissolved right away, but it will be slowly transported by the Zinc Bromide solution as TMPhABr3 is deposited in the cathode of the cell. Hopefully the process reverses when the cell is discharged and we’re able to get a cell that can successfully charge/discharge at high densities without the need for all the TMPhABr to remain in solution.

Suggested cell structure using a starting solid layer of sequestering agent

I expect that a cell like this will have way longer stabilization time – as the TMPhABr migrates through the cell and forms a stable structure in the cathode, hopefully without dramatically hindering its functionality. I also hope that the much higher ZnBr2 concentration won’t increase the formation of Zn dendrites or that the formation of these dendrites will be curtailed by the presence of a TMPhABr solid layer at some point.

The above cell design is now in testing, so we should see if we can achieve charge/discharge cycles to 2000 uAh!