September 5, 2009 – Vol.14 No.24
WAITING IN THE WINGS: RECHARGEABLE ZINC BATTERIES.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
If it ain’t cheap it can’t compete. That coarse sentence should be the motto of every company wishing to replace oil with something else.
Anyone who thinks oil is going away soon is mistaken. Government (ours in particular) doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to demand a significant cut in consumption, like upping the fuel economy standard to 100 mpg.
Oil isn’t running out either, but oil is getting more and more difficult to find and retrieve. (BP announced a giant Gulf of Mexico find this week – at 35000 feet, one of the deepest wells drilled to date, illustrates this fact.)
Oil companies, too, are drooling over the prospect of drilling at the North Pole. If that happens you can bet that oil companies hope to eventually weaken the resolve of Antarctic’s managing governments to allow for drilling in the now-pristine continent. There’s no reason to think that there isn’t any oil there. Every other continent has oil, why shouldn’t Antarctica?
Oil will disappear as a basis for transportation fuel when something comes along that offers the same basic features: power-packed, cheap, stored energy that’s easy to handle and quick to refuel with.
Looking at energy cost alone, pure, battery electric drive is the obvious choice to replace gasoline and diesel. Electric vehicles can be recharged from the grid for a tiny fraction of the cost of gasoline or diesel from the pump. But energy cost is only part of the story. Battery electric vehicles themselves are very expensive and it’s the batteries that make them so.
Currently, the trend in electric drive for the few vehicles that are available, as well as those in development, is to employ lithium-based rechargeable batteries. Lithium-based, I’d guess, are the most expensive battery chemistries available. The batteries are costly because of the combination of using a rare, expensive metal combined with a production process that is anything but easy. If lithium battery builders can’t bring prices down dramatically the words, “if it ain’t cheap it can’t compete” will ring true, and lithium powered cars won’t fly along side those fueled with petroleum.
Yet there may be another battery technology that could quickly step in if lithium fails: Rechargeable Zinc-Air.
Until recently it has always been thought that zinc battery chemistries could not be electrochemically recharged. (Think of all of those so-called “alkaline” disposable batteries are really misnamed zinc batteries.) ReVolt Technologies of Norway, and soon the U.S., says no: The zinc-air technology that they’ve developed is rechargeable. The technology, based on six years of research at SINTEF (the largest independent research institute in Scandinavia), can be used to power anything from electric cars to cell phones. The company claims its zinc-air chemistry has twice as much stored energy as conventional Lithium-ion batteries. More stored energy can translate into longer distances traveled.
ReVolt says its batteries are ”Made using naturally abundant zinc, the batteries have low manufacturing costs and reduce dependence on imported fuels and other energy materials. They degrade into environmentally-safe substances when exhausted, cutting pollution risks and the need for costly battery waste capture programs.”
Seeking a place in the U.S. electric vehicle market, ReVolt is opening up a U.S. headquarters in Portland, Oregon where it plans to employ up to 75 during its battery development phase and up to 250 employees in subsequent pilot and production phases.
In support of ReVolt’s move to Portland Johan Van Wesemael, Manager of Technology & Market Development for the International Zinc Association (IZA) said, “For over 100 years zinc has been known as a good and safe source of energy. Zinc’s attributes of high energy and power and easy storage makes it suitable for a variety of battery, fuel and flow cell applications such as the well known button cell battery commonly found in hearing aids. Zinc batteries are now also used in computers and cell phones. Newer and bigger zinc energy storage systems include flow cell applications like the one developed by Revolt Technology,”
“Through the Zinc Energy Storage Technology (ZESTec) consortium, the International Zinc Association promotes the use of zinc in batteries, fuel cells and flow cells,” Van Wesemael added. “Zinc is readily available and fully recyclable without loss of its properties. An increasing number of zinc batteries can be recharged, making it a truly sustainable source of energy.”
ReVolt is also applying for $30 million in grants from US Department of Energy (DOE) under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) to accelerate the commercialization of its large format zinc-air batteries for energy storage and electric vehicle applications.
Zinc could feasibly compete with oil.
Zinc Energy Storage Technology (ZESTec)
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