Working under the radar for years, Zinc-Air Inc. is probably a battery company that you’ve never heard of, but now that they’re maybe six months away from marketing a new grid energy storage battery, they’re coming out of hiding.
Who can blame them? Startup battery companies have often overhyped, not only their technology, but also the market for such a technology if it could ever be developed. The next big thing in traction batteries or grid storage batteries seems right around the corner. They garner rave reviews and big investors, from private wealthy individuals and corporations to the federal government, and then the technology doesn’t develop as expected, or the market never materializes. Companies fail, billions of dollars are lost, and lawsuits fly.
Zinc-Air Inc. [ZAI] didn’t want to fall into the same trap, so took a different route in marketing and searching for investors. Craig Wilkins, President of ZAI, explained in a Cleantechnica interview that the research is about eight years running, using funds from the Department of Energy. As a company, ZAI is about four years old, building on funds from private investors. Their main focus for the last couple of years has been to reach out to leading utility companies, especially renewable utilities that could best benefit from a new grid energy storage technology. ZAI already has a “2013 pipeline of $16 million in sales, with follow-on projects of $115 million,” which might not sound like much, but this is also pure profit, because the company has zero debt.
Despite the company name*, ZAI’s new grid energy storage technology is based on zinc-iron redox flow, and is “reliable, durable, safe, and low cost.” The new batteries are the size of shipping containers, each one capable of up to 160kWh capacity and can discharge up to 80kW for 2hrs. The new batteries operate at a wide range of ambient temperature and aren’t pressurized, so there is less danger of escaping gases during operation. Finally, the components themselves are cheap and easily accessible, keeping costs down.
*The company originally started when it acquired the rights to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs’ zinc-air technology, hence the name Zinc-Air, Inc. The technology wasn’t found suitable for grid storage, to the company switched focus to zinc-iron redox flow.