Spongy zinc battery may beat lithium-ion on safety, price, recycling – by James Dunn (North Bay Business Journal – July 24, 2017)


If nearly 500,000 deposits of $1,000 each on the new Tesla Model 3 indicate bridled demand, the electric cars have a sure future. Tesla plans to start delivery of the $35,000 vehicles on July 28, when it will release the first 30. Palo Alto-based Tesla aims to crank out about three cars a day in August, boost output to 1,500 in September and build to a rate of 20,000 a month by the end of 2017.

Tesla electric cars rely on lithium-ion batteries. The company is building a gargantuan battery factory in Nevada — some 5.8 million square feet — slated for completion in 2020. The enormous production capacity could drive down battery costs by about 30 percent, Tesla said, from batteries now produced by Panasonic in Japan.

But a Marin-based aerospace engineer sees problems with lithium-ion technology: potential for explosions as occurred in Samsung phones in 2016; high cost; and poor recyclability. He suggests zinc, the metal used to stop corrosion in galvanized steel, as an alternative.

In June, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory entered a commercial licensing agreement with EnZinc, co-founded by San Anselmo-based Michael Burz, the company’s president, who worked previously on design of the Tomahawk cruise missile as well as for Nissan. The agreement gives the company exclusive rights to a nickel-zinc battery for use in electric road vehicles, hybrids based on the battery and microgrids up to 60 megawatts.

Burz expects his zinc-based battery technology to be ready for market in about two years, with another year to gear up production. The next step is to put the zinc battery into a case then heat, freeze and overcharge it, simulating real-world stresses that can derail technology. Then EnZinc will test the battery in electric bicycles and cars.

Battery failure can derail a business. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 lithium-ion batteries caused fires and explosions last year and cost the company some $5 billion as it recalled nearly 3 million smartphones. Some of the 3,500-milliamp-hour batteries were too big for the smartphones, causing shorts, according to reports from the company, or insulation tape was missing.

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