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A Simple Oxygen Detector Using ZincAir Battery

Yoong Kin Hooi, Masayoshi Nakano, and Nobuyoshi Koga*
Department of Science Education, Graduate School of Education, Hiroshima University, 1-1-1 Kagamiyama, Higashi-Hiroshima 739-8524, Japan
S Supporting Information *

ABSTRACT: The construction of a simple oxygen detector using a zincair battery as an oxygen sensor is described. It is a user-friendly device that can be employed in various laboratory activities in both junior and senior high schools. A short circuit can be introduced to reduce the O2 concentration in the air-diuser layer of the battery that causes a decrease in the voltage. This phenomenon provides the basis to make an electrical device that can produce a voltage increase whenever oxygen gas is present. If the surroundings do not contain any available oxygen gas, the voltage in the zincair battery would remain static. In addition, time-to-operate of an electric component attached to the battery can also be used for semiquantitative determination of O2 concentration in a gas sample.

KEYWORDS: Elementary/Middle School Science, High School/Introductory Chemistry, Demonstrations, Hands-On Learning/Manipulatives, Gases, Laboratory Equipment/Apparatus he detection and identication of O2 are common laboratory activities, which are introduced to students as early as elementary school. A ame test, in the form of relighting of glowing splinter, acts as a common and basic qualitative test for students to conrm the presence of O2. At a high-school level, a solution containing indigo carmine can be used to indicate the presence of O2. A semiquantitative measurement of O2 concentration can be performed using a gas detector tube.1 The measurement of O2 concentration using an electric sensor with a data logger is currently being introduced in school laboratories. This paper describes a new and simple method to qualitatively detect the presence of O2 and semiquantitatively measure the concentration. Commercially available zincair batteries have been used in various experiments in high schools.24 The zincair battery works in such a way that oxygen gas becomes the active cathode, while zinc is the anode contained within the battery. The respective electrode reactions of the zincair battery and the corresponding standard potentials of the equations as written are5

( )Zn(s) + 2OH(aq) ZnO(s) + H 2O(l) + 2e (E = 1.25 V)

( +)O2 (g) + 2H 2O(l) + 4e 4OH (aq) (E = 0.4 V)

According to eq 3, the battery consumes atmospheric O2 and gains mass in the form of ZnO. Therefore, Faradays law can be conrmed by measuring the change in the volume of O2 consumed or the gained mass of the zincair battery with increasing quantity of electricity in a circuit using the zincair battery as the power source.24 At the operating voltage of the zincair battery (1.4 V), the electric current in a circuit, with a small resistance, linearly changes with respect to the atmospheric O2 concentration.5 This makes it possible to use the zinc air battery as a sensor for measuring O 2 concentration. This idea is further developed by applying an equivalent circuit in a device.6 In this communication, we report a method to use a zincair battery in a very simple circuit for detecting O2 and semiquantitatively determining the concentration. With a very small residual O2 concentration in the air-diuser layer of the zincair battery, the electromotive force of eq 3 dramatically decreases.7 The re-establishment of the electromotive force by exposure to O2 from a gas sample provides evidence for the presence of O2, and the recovery time is an approximate measure of the O2 concentration in the sample. The basic principle is described in the Supporting Information.


The overall reaction of the battery is

2Zn(s) + O2 (g) 2ZnO(s) (E = 1.65 V)

DETECTOR SETUP A simple handmade detector was constructed using a zincair battery (1.4 V Panasonic PR44 or 1.4 V Panasonic PR2330), rubber stoppers (size 2, 3, and 8), a glass tube, wires, a switch, and an electronic melody box P703934 (Narika, Japan).

XXXX American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc. | J. Chem. Educ. XXXX, XXX, XXXXXX

Journal of Chemical Education There are several air holes in these models of the zincair batteries. Leaving one hole open for gas sample intake, other holes were sealed with a transparent tape. Then the zincair battery was tted to a shaped rubber stopper. This was done to reduce the rate of voltage increase by slowing the oxygen gas adsorption in the air-diuser layer of the zincair battery. It is important, particularly after short circuit, to provide ample time for the voltage hike to be detected by the electrical component; in this case, an electronic melody box. The detector was constructed with a switch acting as an alternative circuit path for the short circuit, as can be seen in Figure 1.


Figure 2. Relationship between duration time of the short-circuit treatment and the voltage recorded immediately after completing the short-circuit treatment (initial voltage) for the PR44 zincair battery. SW is the switch and V is the voltmeter.

Figure 1. (Bottom) A completed detector and (top) the corresponding circuit diagram.


Figure 3. A calibration curve for the semiquantitative determination of O2 concentration using the PR44 battery detector setup.

Short Circuit and Detector Performance

When a new zincair battery is rst exposed to the atmospheric air, the voltage gradually rises and subsequently remains constant at around 1.4 V. The idea was to reduce the voltage to a value lower than the minimum requirement of the melody box, which, in this case, was 0.760 V. By implementing the idea of using a short circuit, the negative and the positive terminals were connected to cause a voltage drop. By connecting the battery to a voltmeter, the voltage immediately after the shortcircuit treatment (initial voltage) was investigated. When a PR44 battery was tested, the voltage dropped to ca. 0.2 V after a short-circuit time of 30 s (Figure 2). When a PR2330 battery was tested, the voltage dropped to ca. 0.5 V with a short-circuit time of 30 s and resulted in an air-charging time of 30 min or more, and a 15 s shortcircuit time resulted in an air chargingtime of less than 30 min. A maximum voltage dierence between the minimum requirement of the melody box and the voltage immediately after completing the short-circuit treatment of the battery gives optimum results for the qualitative and semiquantitative tests. The relationship between the O2 concentration in the test gas and time-to-sound using the PR44 battery detector is shown in Figure 3. The time-to-sound values at the respective O2 concentrations are reproducible. The relation between O2 concentration and time-to-sound can be empirically expressed by an inverse proportion. This relation was used as a calibration curve to determine the O 2 concentration in a test gas.
Electrolysis of Water

box, to investigate the voltage change (Figure 4). When two melody boxes were wired to the oxygen detector at each

Figure 4. Voltage change at the anode and cathode in detectors during the electrolysis of water using the PR44 battery detector setup.

Two detectors, similar to those shown in Figure 1, were employed to verify the gas sample evolved from the electrolysis of water while being wired to a voltmeter instead of the melody

electrode instead of the voltmeters, the melody box at anode produced sound after 2 min, but no sound at cathode for more than 5 min. The audio results can be explained by the voltage changes at each electrode shown in Figure 4 and the line showing the minimum voltage requirement of the melody box. | J. Chem. Educ. XXXX, XXX, XXXXXX

Journal of Chemical Education Table 1. Performance of the Oxygen Detector Using ZincAir Battery in Various Experiments


Time to Sound/min Experiment Water Electrolysis Comparison of Gases Gases O2 evolved from Anode (+) H2 evolved from Cathode () O2 by H2O2(aq) decomposition H2 by reaction of HCl(aq) + Zn(s) CO2 by reaction of HCl(aq) + Na2CO3(s) O2 consumed from air by chemical body warmer (kairo)c Oxygen inhaler (95% O2) Inspiration (18.8% O2)d Expiration (16.2% O2)d Before (18.8% O2)d After (15.1% O2)d PR44a 1.9 No sound (5 min) 0.8 0.1 No sound No sound No sound 0.9 0.1 8.3 0.3 11.4 0.8 8.3 0.3 11.6 0.4 PR2330b 2.5 No sound (10 min) 1.0 No sound No sound No sound 1.2 0.2 9.4 0.2 11.5 0.2 9.9 0.1 12.9 0.1

Human Breath

Combustion of Candle

The initial voltage right after the short-circuit treatment is 0.2 V. bThe initial voltage right after the short-circuit treatment is 0.5 V. cSee the Supporting Information. dMeasured using an oxygen detector tube (Gastech, Japan).

Application in Other Experiments

The performance of the oxygen detector using the zincair battery in various experiments in student laboratory experiments is summarized in Table 1. As can be seen from these data (comparison of dierent gases), the detector selectively works for oxygen. In addition, if the initial voltage of the zincair battery, after the short-circuit treatment, is set as constant in each experimental run, the concentration of oxygen can be semiquantitatively determined by comparing the time required by electronic melody box to make sound. This can be observed in the results of the experiments for the human breath and the combustion of a candle. The details of all the experiments listed in Table 1 are described in the instructor information found in the Supporting Information.

CONCLUSION The simple device with a zincair battery as O2 sensor can be applied to various student experiments at schools. The detection and determination of O2 concentration is more quantitative than the conventional ame test, easier to use than an indigo carmine solution, and more cost-eective than a gas detector tube.

(1) Collings, A. J. Performance Standard for Detector Tube Units Used to Monitor Gases and Vapours in Working Areas. Pure Appl. Chem. 2001, 54 (9), 17631767. (2) Kamata, M.; Kawahara, T. Teaching Materials using ZincAir Batteries. I. Educational Experiment for Faradays Law. Kagaku to Kyoiku 2000, 48 (3), 192194. (3) Kamata, M. Teaching Materials using ZincAir Batteries. II. Educational Experiment for Faradays Law (2nd report). Kagaku to Kyoiku 2000, 48 (5), 330331. (4) Kamata, M.; Paku, M. Exploring Faradays Law of Electrolysis Using ZincAir Batteries with Current Regulative Diodes. J. Chem. Educ. 2007, 84 (4), 674676. (5) Tanaka, Y.; Koga, N. A Convenient Measurement of Oxygen Concentration using ZincAir Battery. Chem. Educ. J. 2009, 13(1), No.13-10. (accessed Dec 2013). (6) Takahashi, M.; Yamauchi M. Equivalent Circuits of ZincAir Battery and Analysis of ZincAir Battery Oxygen Sensor using the Equivalent Circuits. Abstract PRiME2012, 2012, #3553. http://ma. (accessed Dec 2013). (7) Smith, G. C.; Hossain, Md. M.; MacCarthy, P. Why Batteries Deliver a Fairly Constant Voltage until Dead. J. Chem. Educ. 2012, 89 (11), 14161420.



S Supporting Information *

Instructor information. This material is available via the Internet at


Corresponding Author


The authors declare no competing nancial interest.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The present work was supported partially by a grant-in-aid for scientic research (A)(25242015), (B)(22300272) and challenging exploratory research (23650511) from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. One of the authors (Y.K.H.) acknowledges the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology in Japan for the nancial support in the Teacher Training Program.
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