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Can zinc electricity dry out lithium batteries?


The goal set by the new US President Biden is to completely decarbonize the power grid by 2035. Lithium batteries are still the most popular battery storage option today. Facing the global shortage of lithium, almost every lithium battery has to be used in cars with weight requirements. Who can kill the standard lithium battery technology and occupyEnergy storageHalf of the industry? There are quite a few technologies that want to compete with lithium battery business, but they are all in the process of brewing. Either the technology itself has problems, or the feasibility of mass production needs to be demonstrated. Therefore, it is rare to really compete with lithium battery technology.

Recently, a technology that uses zinc materials instead of lithium materials and can basically use standard lithium battery process equipment has emerged, giving people a high look at its prospects. The R & D personnel are full of confidence in its prospects, and firmly want to create a new Xintiandi of energy storage.

Lithium battery is still the king of energy density

It goes without saying that lithium batteries control more than 90% of the global grid battery storage market. Lithium batteries have become an important technology to cope with climate change and are also continuously improvedelectric vehicle(EV) and renewable energy storage devices.

However, the supply chain of lithium batteries is being constrained. Analysts predict that there will be a shortage of lithium in the next decade. The output of raw materials is not enough to meet the urgent needs of the above market. Through the comparison between the prediction of technology adoption and the investment of miners, it can be seen thatLithium ion batteryOur supply chain will soon be greatly restricted. As governments around the world accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and renewable energy legislation, this shortage will become more serious. Therefore, the market urgently needs new battery technology to solve the problem of lithium shortage.

Lithium's position on the periodic table almost established its position as the king of energy density. On the one hand, lithium has obvious advantages in renewable energy storage due to its low service life cost; On the other hand, the demand for light batteries in electric vehicles means that lithium is unlikely to be replaced. However, the safety risk of lithium batteries makes it unsuitable for the market where a large number of battery packs are placed in people's homes and enterprises, especially in places where some fire regulations prohibit the use of lithium batteries. Therefore, non lithium batteries are much more likely to succeed in renewable energy storage. The next question is, what technology can beat lithium batteries in energy storage and expand at the speed required by climate change?

Over the past few decades, many research institutions and companies have tried to manufacture new energy storage batteries, but no one has really succeeded. Even those technologies that have gone out of the laboratory are eclipsed by the rapid decline in the manufacturing cost of lithium batteries.

Lithium battery has its own particularity

Let's first look at how lithium batteries are made. Lithium battery is called intercalation battery. The same lithium ion reacts at both anode and cathode, and flows between them through liquid electrolyte. When the battery is discharged, the graphite anode releases lithium ions into the electrolyte while the cathode absorbs lithium ions; The process is opposite when charging.

Importantly, the electrolyte does not need to store a large number of ions, it only needs to act as a conduit between the electrodes. Most other battery chemistry does not use intercalation, but depends on the reaction of each electrode with the electrolyte. This means that they usually need a lot of electrolytes to store reactants. Lithium batteries require only a very small amount of electrolyte, so they are very compact.

Another key feature of lithium battery is that it can store a large amount of energy in a small amount of materials. This means that the lithium-ion electrode can be made of relatively thin active material coating (i.e. the material reacting on each electrode), and the total thickness of the electrode is less than 0.1 mm. This is in contrast to lead-acid batteries, which have electrodes several millimeters thick. In high-power applications, using thin coatings can achieve higher energy efficiency and better performance.

The combination of low electrolyte volume and thin electrode promotes the manufacturing process of lithium batteries. Electrodes are made by applying a thin coating on a thin metal substrate. These thin coatings allow for fairly rapid application and on-line drying during continuous roll to roll production.

The diaphragm can be made very thin because it does not need to store excess electrolyte, and it is placed between the electrodes before the electrodes (usually) are wound together and placed in the cell. The electrolyte is injected into the battery before being sealed and sent for initial circulation. This is a carefully controlled cycle, called "forming cycle", which will cause a reaction in the cell to ensure its life.

Lithium ion battery manufacturing requires a new kind of chemistry, that is, it must be able to store a large amount of energy in a small amount of active substances of two electrodes. Without this, the thin lithium-ion electrode will generate a lot of energy compared with the metal substrate and diaphragm required to support it. The cost of these inactive ingredients is considerable, accounting for about one third of the cost of lithium battery materials. Unless battery chemistry can store a similar amount of energy in a small amount of materials, the cost of inactive components will make the use of thin lithium-ion electrodes impossible.

The second requirement is the ability to use a small amount of electrolyte. A large amount of electrolyte requires a thicker diaphragm and limits the amount of energy that can be stored in a given size of battery container. Although the impact on cost is not as obvious as the energy density of active materials, it is still an important consideration.

Few battery chemicals meet the above requirements, and even fewer meet these requirements while meeting the cost and performance requirements of the market.

New breakthroughs in benchmarking lithium batteries

No matter what technology it is, everyone is benchmarking the most popular lithium battery in the market. If it can meet all its requirements, it can have greater development potential.

Ryan brown, CEO of Canadian start-up salient energy, said that the global dependence on lithium batteries and the relative scarcity of key metals of lithium batteries will put energy transformation at risk unless cheaper alternatives can be produced on a Gigabit scale. The zinc ion battery that his company is developing will be cheaper, safer and more durable than lithium batteries, and the production equipment is the same as the manufacturing equipment that has driven the sharp decline in the price of lithium batteries in recent years.

The 28 year old entrepreneur said, "we must rebuild the power grid of the whole world to make it compatible with renewable energy. We must double or triple the size of the world power grid to achieve electric vehicles and (green)Hydrogen energy。 Think about the number of batteries you need. Lithium batteries can't meet it. By "global lithium shortage", I mean that every lithium battery will be used in cars. Because that's where low weight is needed. "

He added: "we can use heavier batteries except cars, such as zinc ion batteries." Such markets include residential, commercial and industrial energy storage and ships. In these markets, weight is not an issue, but safety is crucial.

The United States wants to de lithium

Brown said: for western countries, "there are also supply chain security issues. China is not only rich in lithium minerals, all lithium processing is also carried out in China, and at this time international relations are becoming tense. From the current situation, the ambition of the world's clean technology depends on its relationship with China. This seems to be a risk."

In order to build a domestic supply chain that can support a strong energy storage industry, the United States needs to get rid of its dependence on China in battery processing materials and battery manufacturing. In fact, China produces most of the batteries in the world and more battery materials at the same time. In order to achieve the common goal of both parties in the United States and establish a strong domestic battery industry, the United States attempts to use innovation to surpass the standard lithium battery to build new designs to use materials purchased in North America.

Biden set the goal of completely decarbonizing the power grid by 2035. The recent trade war has highlighted the risks in the long-term trade relationship between the United States and China. The pandemic further demonstrates the risks to critical infrastructure posed by relying on global supply chains. In addition to these two risks, the rapid growth of battery demand has not been met by the same rapid investment in mining and raw material processing. Most industry analysts predict that there will be a general shortage of key lithium-ion materials by the middle of this century.

New battery technology could enhance America's climate ambitions. In order to enhance the capacity of the domestic battery supply chain, the Biden government is likely to identify alternatives that can meet or exceed the performance of lithium-ion batteries, while using cheap and domestic rich materials.

Lithium battery is designed for highly portable applications, which is very suitable for automotive applications, but its value is not too high for the fixed energy storage required by the power grid. California governor Gavin Newsom said that the sale of new fuel powered vehicles and trucks will be banned by 2035, and lithium batteries are crucial to this goal. There is almost no lithium mining in the United States, and the processing of lithium into battery grade chemicals is also restricted.

The transition to renewable energy requires that the number of batteries produced worldwide is far greater than the current order of magnitude. The existing technology will not be able to complete this task. Lead acid batteries have a short service life and are not suitable for applications that require decades. Although lithium-ion batteries are currently solving this problem, the raw materials they rely on are too scarce to achieve the extensive and rapid transformation required by the reality of global warming. Other emerging technologies have failed in some key aspects, such as too slow to meet power requirements, or too large to meet cost requirements.

Zinc ion batteries are likely to be a promising alternative. Zinc is so cheap and abundant that it is usually used to make coins. Another material used in zinc ion batteries is manganese, which is also cheap and abundant. Unlike the materials used in lithium batteries, the production of these two materials in North America is enough to support the climate needs of the United States. Because zinc ion battery is a water-based battery, it has the additional advantage of complete safety, which means that it will be able to be used in the market where lithium-ion battery is subject to safety restrictions. This safe, low-cost, durable alternative to lithium-ion batteries can be easily built through a secure domestic supply chain. Another advantage is that the manufacturing process can be expanded quickly and at low cost.

This zinc is not that zinc, alternative technology sword fingerTesla

Brian Adams, chief technology officer of salient energy, said that his patented technology was developed using zinc ion battery chemistry, including zinc anode, pH neutral zinc sulfate electrolyte and manganese oxide based cathode. Water based electrolyte means that the battery will not catch fire, and the scarcity of zinc and manganese is much lower than that of lithium, cobalt and nickel, which are all standardlithium batteryRequired.

Modular batteries using this technology provideLithium batteryThe performance of the pool is very similar, and once the scale of the technology is expanded, it will eventually reduce the storage cost (LCOS) by 30-50%. Because compared with the 10-year life provided by standard lithium batteries, their life will be longer - 15 to 20 years.

Brown said, "if you look at Tesla's battery day (last September), musk said that most of the cost benefits come from manufacturing and economies of scale, but Tesla found that the material cost is the largest component, and the cost has not been reduced. Therefore, owning a battery with a much lower material cost is exciting for the next wave of cost reduction."

Brown admitted that zinc based batteries have existed for decades, but he said that the company's zinc ion technology is the first technology with the same working principle as lithium batteries - the charging and discharging time is 4 hours, and the battery pack is the same size. He said: "Its operation mode is very similar. Importantly, its construction mode is the same. This produces a battery that is as easy to manufacture as lithium battery, but the materials it uses are basically cheap, safe and rich. From the perspective of system integrators, when we package it in a device, it is basically no different from lithium battery. It is relatively heavy, but for the market we pursue, it occupies the same space So I feel the same. "

So far, salient's zinc ion battery is the only one that can be usedLithium ion batteryThe manufacturing process of non lithium technology provides an attractive solution for renewable energy storage, especially its compatibility and other advantages. Like lithium battery, it realizes its functions through inserting layers. Zinc ions react by moving between the two electrodes through a water-based electrolyte. During the discharge process, the zinc metal on the anode is dissolved in the electrolyte in the form of zinc ions. At the same time, zinc ions are absorbed into the cathode by the electrolyte. This process is the opposite during charging.

It is reported that salient's zinc ion battery has several competitive advantages:

Zinc ion battery meets the conditions of lithium ion battery compatibility. The use of intercalation means that the only function of electrolyte is to act as a conduit for ions, so that a small amount of ions can be used. In addition, the active materials used in zinc ion batteries have very high energy density, and can store enough energy even in thin electrodes.

Figure: the unique intercalation chemistry has set a new standard for zinc batteries

Zinc ion batteries can also improve the manufacturing process of lithium batteries. The strong reactivity of lithium with water requires that many production steps must be carried out in a highly controlled atmosphere, which makes the production process of lithium more expensive and complex. As a water-based battery, zinc ion battery has no such limitation.

Zinc ion batteries do not need to form a cycle. This means that they can move from the production line to customers faster. This manufacturing capacity using lithium-ion batteries means that the production of zinc ion batteries can be rapidly and cheaply expanded.

The new zinc battery solves the three key problems faced by the previous zinc battery: rechargeability, energy density and power capacity. Although other zinc batteries perform well in one or two parameters, salient zinc ion battery is the only technology that can provide these three parameters at the same time.

Not to make money

So far, salient energy has been funded by high net worth individuals, the Canadian government and the gamechanger program of oil giant shell. The Nova Scotia based company has funds to build pilot plants and is considering starting a round of financing in the near future.

However, to drive down the price of lithium batteries, salient must expand its technological scale and build its own giant factory to achieve the required economies of scale. Brown hopes to achieve this goal in the second half of this century.

This year, the company will start to build a pilot manufacturing plant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which will be put into operation in 2022. Then, it plans to attract enough capital to build a "factory of hundreds of megawatt hours" by the end of 2024.

Brown said that he expected the batteries produced by the relatively small first factory to be 50-100% more expensive than lithium batteries, but in "the niche market that pays attention to safety, we can charge extra fees".

"Once our modules run on site and prove that we can produce such modules, we can get more than $1 billion to build a huge factory, and then we will start to beat lithium batteries in cost," he added. He hopes to eventually open a large factory on every continent.

He also said that if there were different opportunities, the company would consider other business plans. For example, "if we have a good battery manufacturing partner, which hopes to obtain licenses and speed up the adoption of our technology, we will do so."

Brown said that his focus is to deal with climate change rather than make money. If zinc ion batteries can enter the market faster, he will even consider selling the company. "For example, Panasonic is really good at making batteries. They may shorten our promotion time for several years and let us develop products faster. (if Panasonic is willing to buy) of course, we will agree. What we need is technology. We don't have to be on the cover of Fortune magazine," he said.

Kill the standard lithium battery, but not the lithium battery equipment

Although relatively new, zinc ion batteries have been proven to provide substantial supply chain improvement and security. Combining these advantages with scalable manufacturing processes will ensure that zinc ion batteries play an important role in the future of clean technology. With the increase of production and the advantage of economies of scale in the future, zinc ion batteries will become a low-cost alternative to lithium batteries. Coupled with long service life, this will make the storage cost of zinc ion batteries far lower than the current storage cost of lithium batteries.

Although zinc ion batteries are expected to become fixedEnergy storageBut it is not all bad news for the lithium battery industry dominated by China. As Brown said, the advantages of zinc ion technology also include "we can buy all the equipment cheaply from China. Then our material cost is about half of (lithium ion battery), so our cost potential is better than lithium battery." It can be seen that any substitute of lithium battery needs to adopt standard manufacturing process in order to achieve rapid and low-cost scale expansion.

At the same time, when selling lithium batteries to all parts of the world, Chinese enterprises also need to prepare for a rainy day and explore using less lithium and other rare metals to produce more efficient batteries, so as to compete with the later covetous technology and keep themselves up.

Is it just a matter of time before lithium ions are eliminated? Industry must consider! Article source: OFweek lithium grid

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