Zinc-Air Batteries Power Remote Areas

Zinc-Air Batteries Power Remote Areas

California-based NantEnergy created a rechargeable zinc-air battery storage system capable of providing power at a lower cost than lithium-ion systems

Several remote villages in Africa and Asia are receiving electricity using zinc-air batteries. The technology is deployed in over 110 villages and is serving 200,000 people. According to NantEnergy, its zinc-air battery system can deliver energy for US $100 per kilowatt hour. However, according to the Energy Storage Association, lithium -ion batteries range from US $300 to US $500 per kilowatt hour. Although several experts are questioning the claim by NantEnergy, Ramkumar Krishnan, its chief technology officer did not immediately provide performance data on the batteries to support the claims.

The company is focused on deploying its batteries to remote villages to establish micro-grids that are powered by solar panels. Electricity from the solar panels separates zinc oxide into zinc and oxygen. The zinc generated in the process stores energy, which can be used in dark or cloudy conditions. Moreover, energy in the zinc can be combined with air to discharge electricity. According to Krishnan, the batteries are rechargeable and can hold a charge for up to a few days. However, the company also realized that the amount of power NantEnergy is providing so far is small compared to the scale of lithium-ion and lead-acid batteries. NantEnergy has installed 55 megawatt-hours of storage, compared to around 10 gigawatts-hours of energy storage deployed worldwide, Krishnan said.

Several small firms across the U.S. are deploying energy storage systems to capture the clean renewable energy generated by the sun and wind. Lithium ion batteries are often used by military bases and small communities to power microgrids found on islands or in remote areas. However, zinc-air batteries are less common and such batteries are in early stage of development in some companies. Manufactures face challenges such as developing batteries that are rechargeable, possess a long life, and deliver enough power density. Cell phone towers in North America, Central and Latin America, and Southeast Asia currently also use NantEnergy zinc-air storage system. NantEnergy, formerly known as Fluidic Energy, plans to open a battery manufacturing facility in California in 2019, Krishnan said.