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).
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.
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.
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!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, tetrabutylammonium bromide (TBABr) is not a very good sequestering agent for static Zn-Br batteries due to its very low solubility in Zinc Bromide solutions. To solve this problem, I have decided to test trimethylphenylammonium bromide (TMPhABr) as a potential replacement, since this salt also forms and insoluble perbromide but – due to its significantly higher polarity and lower molecular weight – should be significantly more soluble than TBABr. I ordered it from Alibaba around one week ago and recently got it delivered.
My initial tests with it involved testing its solubility in Zinc Bromide solutions. The solubility of TMPhABr in pure water is not indicated clearly anywhere, but I assumed its solubility would be similar to that of trimethylbenzylammonium bromide (TMBABr) or tetrapropylammonium (TPABr) bromide, both which have solubilities of around 10% by mass in water at 25C. My initial tests have confirmed this suspicion with solutions at 10% by mass being easy to prepare at 20-25C. I didn’t try to prepare more concentrated pure solutions as my objective is to judge its solubility in the presence of Zinc Bromide.
The first test I performed to evaluate this was a 0.25M solution of Zinc Bromide which was able to dissolve 0.12M of TMPhABr with no problems. I then increased the amount of ZnBr2 to 0.5M – which is what the authors of the Chinese paper using ZnBr2+TPABr use – and I was able to dissolve 0.25M of TMPhABr without issues. With this result I know I will be able to at least reproduce similar experimental conditions to those achieved by the Chinese researchers, something that I could never do with TBABr due to the solubility issues mentioned before.
To test how far I could take this I then attempted to prepare a 1M solution of Zinc Bromide and see if I could get 1M of TMPhAbr to go with it. Sadly at this point the concentration of TMPhABr is already too high – would be close to 10% by weight of the solution – so it was actually not possible to get to this point. This means that the practical limit of this battery will be to have around 0.25M of TMPhABr dissolved, which is probably a realistic limit for most quaternary ammonium salts since we are unlikely to get an effective sequestering agent – not electrochemically active and with no effect on pH – with a molar mass significantly lower than that of TMPhABr at a similar price point.
I then used this 0.5M ZnBr2 + 0.25M TMPhABr solution to create the first battery. This battery had a diameter of 0.5 inches and was built within my Swagelok cell. I used a 0.2mm thick Zinc anode followed by 8 layers of fiberglass separator and a CC4 carbon electrode. I also made sure to sand the graphite electrodes in the Swagelok cell to make sure their exposed surface was pristine. I put 50uL of the electrolyte on the cell but I won’t know how much ended up in the separator until I open the cell after testing and weight the wet components.
The graph above shows the first – to the best of my knowledge, the first ever public – charge/discharge curves of a static Zn-Br cell prepared using TMPhABr as a sequestering agent. It is very interesting to note that the shape of the discharge curve improved immensely moving from TBABr, showing that this battery is significantly better behaved. Although the CE and EE of this first curve were particularly low, the CE of the second curve measured already showed an increase of the CE to 79% and EE 66%. I will keep cycling the battery and will show you how the CE and EE change as a function of the number of cycles. Exciting times!