Think zinc: Another metal that can transform the energy storage sector

By Ron MacDonald
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Mines worldwide extract more than 11.9 million metric tons of zinc annually. There are zinc mines in over 50 countries around the world, and while the metal plays a key role in the steel industry, few people understand its transformative role in the energy storage sector. When most people think of the metals that power today’s energy storage systems, vanadium and lithium are at front of mind.

However, one of the challenges to growing an energy storage industry is the dependency on a supply chain of hardware components, metals and chemicals many of which come from outside of North America. Metals such as lithium, vanadium, rare earths and cobalt used today in many energy storage batteries, are impacted by price volatility, security of supply and duration restrictions. On the other hand, those same risks do not apply to zinc energy flow batteries.

Best known for its industrial use in galvanising steel, Zinc is abundant and inexpensive, and without any geopolitical complications as we have a significant North American supply. Zinc utilizes the only battery chemistry that uses earth-abundant, recyclable materials with chemistry that is robust and safe. Unlike lithium-ion technology, which requires new stacks in order to scale, zinc batteries are able to decouple the linkage between energy and power. This means that scaling the zinc battery technology can be accomplished by simply increasing the size of the energy storage tank and quantity of the recharged zinc particles.

Zinc-air batteries use oxygen from the atmosphere to extract power from zinc, making zinc-air battery production costs the lowest of all rechargeable batteries. Zinc-air batteries are non-flammable and non-toxic with a longer lifetime as compared to other batteries.

The zinc-air cell doesn’t require expensive and hard-to-find materials and can be manufactured locally which contributes to our North American economy. When combined with PV panels, zinc-air storage delivers a renewable, reliable, and affordable source of power.

Zinc empowers the lowest cost of storage in the market for long-duration applications, resolving the intermittent and unpredictable nature of other renewable energy sources, while completely decoupling the linkage between power and energy. The availability of this long-duration, low cost storage is opening up a new trillion-dollar energy storage market for utilities, behind-the-meter applications and micro-grid developers. More and more companies are looking to move toward zinc-powered long-duration technology that is more affordable and practical.

Long-duration energy storage allows energy producers to send excess electricity over the electricity transmission grid to provisional electricity storage sites that become energy suppliers when electricity demand is greater.

To give one example: Our company Zinc8 Energy Solutions has won a recent contract award and project collaboration with the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and private sector deployment agreement with Digital Energy supported by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (Nyserda). We will deploy a 100kW/1.5MWh zinc-air system capable of storing energy for 15 hours

We want to help advance New York State Governor Cuomo's Green New Deal by achieving the aggressive energy storage goal and by supporting a nation-leading commitment of 100% electricity from emission-free sources by 2040.

As we move to our ‘new normal,’ post pandemic world, our collective future requires clean air and our pathway to that environmentally-sound planet demands energy storage systems.  A ‘bet’ on energy storage powered by zinc is a wager that will deliver a cleaner planet that will thrive for current and future generations.

Ron MacDonald is president and CEO of Zinc8 Energy Solutions, producing zinc-air battery technology. The Zinc-Air Flow Battery from Zinc8 Energy Solutions is an energy storage solution designed to serve a wide range of long duration applications for microgrids and utilities. 

Cover image: Sphalerite, the most common zinc ore. Image: wikimedia user Andreas Früh (Andel). 

Energy is stored in the form of zinc particles, which are then combined with oxygen drawn from the air to deliver power. Image: Zinc8.

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