The first advantage zinc holds for battery-making – as we outlined in Part One – is flexibility.
The second is its low toxicity and its inert reaction to air and water, making it intrinsically safer both inside the body or in applications where combustion is a major hazard – such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner problems that have been traced back to the lithium ion batteries, as this NY Times article explains.
A similar problem at Cessna in 2011 forced the company to revert to heavier nickel cadmium batteries, a potentially disastrous option that Boeing is no doubt hoping it can avoid as it seeks to understand what is going wrong with its unreliable lithium ion power packs.
The third advantage is zinc batteries’ ability to recharge quickly; losing battery charge being a constant irritation to anyone using electronics on the go and a major hurdle for the uptake of electric vehicles.
A Boon For Zinc Demand and Production?
All that being said, no one is suggesting zinc’s use in batteries is suddenly going to change the demand landscape for the metal.
This is an early stage technology with years of development time ahead of it, yet the omens are good both for the technology and for the benefits it could bring.
As Resource Investing news observes, zinc’s abundance and low cost, relative to other battery materials, will be a key factor that makes it an attractive material for battery design over the long term.
Currently, 21 months of global zinc production would be sufficient to produce 1 billion 10-kWh zinc-air batteries. That’s compared to the more than 180 months of lithium production that would be required to produce the same number of lithium-ion batteries.
Like all new technologies, there will be both technical and commercial challenges to overcome before we will see widespread adoption into everyday applications –but the technology is promising as much for what it could open up in the way of completely new applications, as for meeting existing shortcomings of established metal technologies.