New water batteries could rival fire-prone Lithium-ion

Two male researchers in a lab holding prototype water battery (batteries)
Image: RMIT

A global team of researchers and industry collaborators led by RMIT University has invented recyclable ‘water batteries’ that won’t catch fire or explode.

Lithium-ion energy storage dominates the market due to its technological maturity, but its suitability for large-scale grid energy storage is limited by safety concerns with the volatile materials inside.

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Lead researcher Distinguished Professor Tianyi Ma said their batteries were at the cutting edge of an emerging field of aqueous energy storage devices, with breakthroughs that significantly improve the technology’s performance and lifespan.

“What we design and manufacture are called aqueous metal-ion batteries—or we can call them water batteries,” said Ma, from RMIT’s School of Science.

The team use water to replace organic electrolytes, meaning their batteries can’t start a fire or blow up, unlike their lithium-ion counterparts.

“Addressing end-of-life disposal challenges that consumers, industry and governments globally face with current energy storage technology, our batteries can be safely disassembled and the materials can be reused or recycled,” Ma said.

The simplicity of manufacturing processes for their water batteries helped make mass production feasible, he said.

“We use materials such as magnesium and zinc that are abundant in nature, inexpensive and less toxic than alternatives used in other kinds of batteries, which helps to lower manufacturing costs and reduces risks to human health and the environment.”

The team has made a series of small-scale trial batteries for numerous peer-reviewed studies to tackle various technological challenges, including boosting energy storage capacity and the lifespan.

The batteries now last significantly longer—comparable to the commercial lithium-ion batteries in the market—making them ideal for high-speed and intensive use in real-world applications.

“With impressive capacity and extended lifespan, we’ve not only advanced battery technology but also successfully integrated our design with solar panels, showcasing efficient and stable renewable energy storage,” Ma said.

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Ma said the team’s batteries were well suited for large-scale applications, making them ideal for grid storage and renewable energy integration—especially in terms of safety considerations.

As part of an ARC Linkage project, Ma’s team is continually developing their water batteries in collaboration with industry partner, GrapheneX, a tech innovator based in Sydney.

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