Renewable energy sources like wind, solar and water may offer a cleaner, more sustainable way to meet the world’s energy needs than the fossil fuels nations have depended on for the past two centuries.
However, one barrier that makes widespread adoption challenging is how intermittent they can be. Winds come and go. The sun can get blocked on overcast days. Water currents fluctuate.
To use an extreme example, homeowners living north of the Arctic Circle get six straight months of sunshine and six straight months of darkness. Without a way to store the power generated from solar panels for later, those panels would only be useful for half the year.
One of the best ways to deal with that intermittency is the battery, and one of the best designs on the market today is the lithium-ion battery. However, the design is expensive and comes with limitations that make it difficult to scale to the capacity needed to fully eliminate dependence on fossil fuel.
That’s why Zinc8 Energy Solutions Inc. ZAIRF ZAIR says it is deploying a low-cost, long-duration alternative that can meet the energy storage needs of a 100% renewable future.
Lithium-Ion Batteries Are The Best Storage System Available Today, But They’re Far From Perfect
The technology for manufacturing batteries has come a long way in the past few decades, too. Today, the most efficient design available is the lithium-ion battery, which you’ll find in everything from Tesla Inc.’s TSLA electric cars to EnerSys ENS ABSL™ space batteries.
In a lithium-ion battery, lithium ions are stored on either end of the battery in an electrolyte solution. When power is needed, the lithium ions move from the anode (positive side) to the cathode (negative side). When charging the battery, they move back from the cathode to the anode. That movement creates an electrical current.
It’s a huge improvement over older batteries, to be sure, as it’s lighter than the lead-acid batteries found in combustion engine cars and charges faster and more reliably than nickel-cadmium designs. Even so, it suffers from a few limitations:
- Scaling a lithium-ion storage system means stacking more batteries because you can’t change the capacity of a battery. So it’s hard to scale for larger storage needs.
- Lithium-ion batteries are prone to catching fire if overcharged or if short-circuited. While built-in circuit breakers can prevent the batteries from overheating, there is still some risk of fire.
- Capacity loss caused by degrading materials means that even the best lithium-ion battery has an expiration date.
They’re also expensive to manufacture since they rely on costly and rare minerals like lithium and cobalt. While the cost has dropped from over $1,200 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2010 to just $132 per kWh in 2021, there’s seemingly still a long way to go before it’s truly affordable — especially for large capacity needs like storage for the nation’s energy grid.
Zinc8 Reports Building The Lowest-Cost, Longest-Duration Storage Technology On The Market
Seemingly anticipating these challenges over a decade ago, Zinc8 Energy Solutions was founded in 2012 by a team of engineers determined to develop a battery that was capable of long-duration storage but built using materials that were far cheaper and more abundant than the ones that go into existing batteries.
The result — Zinc8’s patented Zinc-Air Regenerative Fuel Cell System, which the company says costs as low as $45 per kWh for incremental energy capacity cost when retrofitting a system with extra energy capacity and eliminates many of the safety and scalability concerns with lithium-ion batteries. The system's capital largely depends on the duration of the system. At 8 hours, it is $250/kWh; at 100 hours, it is trending towards $60/kWh.
The Zinc-Air system is made up of three parts — the zinc regenerator, storage tank and power stack. When power from the source enters the zinc regenerator, zinc oxide moves from the storage tank into the regenerator where that power separates the zinc from the oxygen. The separated zinc particles flow back into the storage tank while the oxygen is released into the air.
When power is needed, those zinc particles are moved into the power stack where they are recombined with oxygen in a process that generates electricity. Afterward, the zinc oxide is returned to the storage tank until it’s needed in the zinc regenerator again.
Because these components of the battery are decoupled, scaling the system’s energy capacity is a matter of swapping out the storage tank in the middle for a larger capacity tank. If it’s more energy output that’s needed, you just add more power stacks to the system. For a faster-charging system, add more zinc regenerators.
With a lithium-ion battery, you buy the entire battery stack — even if all you needed was a bit extra charging speed or a little more storage capacity. With Zinc8’s decoupled system, you’re only adding the pieces you need, which can save on costs and space required.
The nontoxic, nonflammable and low-cost design has won multiple awards, including the 2020 New York Power Authority’s Innovation Challenge, which came with $2.55 million to build a 100kW storage system at a demonstration site in the state.
The company has also reported raising over $56 million in investor funding and even won the support of Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, who asked Zinc8 to consider making Ulster, New York, its new manufacturing hub.
“I made it clear to Zinc8 CEO, Ron MacDonald, that I stand ready to help their potential expansion in the Hudson Valley in any way, including fighting to secure the historic federal battery research and development incentives I passed in the Bipartisan Infrastructure & Jobs Law,” Senator Schumer said on a phone call with MacDonald.
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