Zinc8 has developed a new type of battery that will outperform lithium-ion batteries one day. (Image Credit: Zinc8)
A new type of battery that won’t degrade, can’t explode, and is up to five times cheaper than lithium-ion batteries will be available on the market. Zinc8, a Canadian-based company, has developed the new zinc-air hybrid flow battery, which has adaptable storage capacity and has the potential to outperform lithium-ion batteries. This device could replace the need for transmission grid upgrades in many areas.
Zinc-air is generally cheaper than lithium-ion batteries since the latter can only store four hours’ worth of energy at once, meaning an eight-hour system needs two batteries. Zinc air’s storage capacity can be upgraded just by increasing the storage tanks’ size and the volume of electrolyte it contains. An eight-hour Zinc8 system costs $250/kWh decreases to $100/kWh for a 32-hour system and $60/kWh for 100 hours. In comparison, lithium-ion batteries cost $300/kWh for any duration over eight hours.
For awhile, zinc-air has been proclaimed to be a cheap and powerful form of energy storage, but there was a drawback. It always had a bumpy zinc coating formation of an electrode called a dendrite, which caused short circuits, among other issues. On the plus side, Zinc8 found a way to take advantage of this flaw, which ultimately led to its success.
The team at Zinc8 developed a process that eliminates the dendrite from the electrode to give them the dendritic particles that can be transferred to the storage tank.
To clarify, the zinc-air hybrid flow battery utilizes electricity from the grid to separate the chemical zincate into zinc, water and oxygen. This results in charged zinc particles that are capable of storing electricity for weeks. Whenever electricity is needed, the charged zinc gets mixed with oxygen from the air and water, discharging the stored electricity and creating zincate, which is then cycled back, repeating the process.
The battery is comprised of three parts: a zinc regenerator, which produces the charged zinc particles; a storage tank, which contains the potassium hydroxide electrolyte and stores the charged zinc; and the power stack, a type of fuel cell that converts the zinc into zincate and delivers its charge to the grid.
The zinc is able to be stored for months in the electrolyte, accumulating at the bottom of the storage tank, but it loses 1% of its stored charge per day. The particles then get pumped out to the power stack through a proprietary pumping device when needed.
The electrolyte doesn’t degrade, being similar at the beginning and end of each cycle, and there is no consumption of zinc, oxygen or water. However, the electrodes and power stack degrade and will need to be replaced once every few years, depending on how often they are used.
Unlike the electrolyte’s flammable mixture of sulphuric acid, water and lead found in lithium-ion batteries, the potassium electrolyte doesn’t get hot, can’t ignite or explode, and it’s highly stable. This will ensure the system´s costs are lessened due to the safety requirements of lithium-ion plants, like containment buildings, aren’t required for zinc-air facilities.
Currently, Zinc8 is building a factory in North America that can build 40 1MW/10MWh systems per year, which isn’t very likely to be enough to meet demand. The company is also exploring what different collaborations and partnerships might involve, which includes potentially licensing the technology to different manufacturers, especially lithium-ion producers.
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