Sasha Gorer, CTO & Co-Founder, Zēlos Energy, and Ben Glenney, Operations Analyst, Zēlos Energy
In 2021, 20.1% of the electricity generated in the United States came from renewable sources, and so did 80% of generation capacity additions.
Energy storage is an essential component of a renewable-powered grid infrastructure. To make the grid more resilient, lower carbon emissions, and reduce dependency on fossil fuels, especially from foreign sources, significant additional energy storage capacity will be needed both in front of and behind the meter.
The need for a sizable, reliable, and strategically secure supply of low-cost, long-life, and safe batteries with a low environmental footprint will explode in the next decade. Zēlos Energy Ltd’s team will soon produce a new generation of zinc-based batteries designed specifically for this market.
ZINC AND MANGANESE: COST & STRATEGIC ABUNDANCE
Zinc and Manganese are highly suited battery materials for energy storage systems (ESS) for several reasons, chief among those being the minerals’ low cost and global supply. Zinc and Manganese are much more abundant in the earth’s crust than traditional battery materials like lithium and lead, and they are mined and processed globally. This is critical to alleviating commodity price and foreign control concerns. Batteries made from this chemistry also do not require any exotic minerals and above all no cobalt, eliminating human rights concerns associated with the metal’s extraction and production.
Lithium-Ion batteries are expensive to build and operate, and now roughly 70% of a lithium cell’s cost structure is composed of raw input materials. Prices of key metals such as nickel, cobalt, graphite, and lithium have been rising and becoming volatile over recent years. Additionally, China holds a global majority share of lithium battery material refining and processing, as well as lithium cell production activity, which is an increasing source of strategic concerns. (Figure 1)
A 3rd-party economic study (commissioned by Zēlos) highlights the cost differences between a Zinc-Manganese system and a typical Lithium-Ion battery system in an ESS application specifically. (Figure 2) As shown in figure 2, an average residential installation (13kWh) storage system using Zinc-Manganese would yield $5,000 to $8,000 in savings across installation and operating costs over a 10-year period compared to a typical Lithium-Ion system. These savings could expand further in the future as the performance of Zinc-Manganese batteries continues to improve, and the rising global demand for Lithium-Ion battery input materials continues to put upward pressure on Lithium battery prices.
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Figure 2: Cost of energy from a Zēlos zinc battery relative to a typical lithium-ion battery (Source: Strategen)
ZINC AND MANGANESE: SAFETY & ENVIRONMENTAL
Zinc-based batteries also have several key advantages over Lithium-based batteries when it comes to safety and environmental factors. Zinc and Manganese are inherently stable and do not react easily with external compounds. Unlike Lithium-Ion batteries, which are inherently combustible and lead to safety hazards, there is no possibility of thermal runaway within an aqueous Zinc-Manganese battery. Residential, industrial, and in-front-of-the-meter customers, as well as permitting agencies will appreciate the safety-by-design offered by Zinc-based batteries. The elements within the battery can withstand extreme temperatures without failing or igniting and exhibit very low toxicity for humans, especially when compared to other batteries.
This combination of safety and non-toxicity greatly simplifies manufacturing, logistics, field installation design, and recycling. In addition, enabling economical recycling solves critical end-of-life issues that continue to plague Lithium-Ion batteries.
Zēlos commissioned another 3rd-party, an industry research and environmental analysis firm, to perform an environmental impact audit on Zn-Mn technology. The study gave this new technology the highest environmental rating it had published, and found that these batteries in an ESS application offset their own carbon footprint in 4-5 months compared to 2-3 years for Lithium-Ion. The delivered carbon return on investment (ROI), a measure of how much carbon is removed by installing a specific battery type, is roughly 2 to 4 times larger than for Lithium-Ion, all while maintaining a significantly lower greenhouse gas emission for its production. (Figure 3) This means that for every $1M of investment in ESS using Zēlos batteries, roughly 450,000 tons of carbon will be sequestered from the atmosphere, compared to 100,000 tons for Lithium.
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Figure 3: Climate impact data for Zēlos’ zinc battery (Source: Boundless)
In short, Zēlos scientists have developed Zn-Mn batteries that are lower-cost, safer, better for the environment, and just as long-lasting as any existing solution in the market. The 3rd party consultancy’s conclusions for Zinc battery costs were aligned with forecasts from the economic report, as this second report estimates that the first generation Zēlos product will produce a 63% lower levelized cost-of-storage (LCOS) than comparable Lithium-Ion installations.
ZELOS: TECH & NEXT STEPS
How did Zēlos enable this breakthrough and why is Zinc-Manganese just now becoming a viable battery chemistry for ESS? The fundamental technological breakthrough that is the key to unlocking the power of Zinc is the electrode protection technology, which allows for simple and durable electrode stabilization. This allows Zinc and Manganese to be discharged and charged repeatedly, solving a massive problem. This proprietary, patented technology blocks dendrite formation as well as other forms of battery degradation, allowing Zinc-Manganese batteries to cycle far longer than was previously possible at greater discharge depths. Zēlos also has optimized the electrode and electrolyte compositions and its cell architecture. Essentially, Zēlos developed a technology to ensure that the Zinc and Manganese in their battery will cycle far longer than other Zinc batteries – even at high rates, equaling or even supplanting the performance life of Lithium-Ion. Another massive benefit inherent in this new Zinc-based technology is its compatibility with basic aqueous battery manufacturing methods and equipment. (Figures 4 & 5)
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Figure 4: Depiction of a Zēlos prismatic zinc battery architecture (Source: Zēlos Energy)
Zēlos currently is ramping up its battery production capabilities, partnering with industry leaders to commercialize its products in the form of prismatic cells and potentially cylindrical cells. Zēlos has sourced a high-volume, global supply chain that includes Zinc, Manganese Dioxide, specialized additives, and electrolytes. Additionally, the Company is planning commercial production and has forged strong relationships with production equipment suppliers, plant engineering firms, and packaging/battery design firms in the US. These strong, global and domestic relationships coupled with a potential 3rd party partner to boost cylindrical cell production capability will enable Zēlos to produce high-quality, high-throughput batteries at the lowest cost available.
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Figure 5: Data for cost of energy delivered over cycles for different cell chemistries (Source: Zēlos Energy)
Zēlos expects to release its first product, a modular residential and light-commercial energy storage system, in 2023. In doing so, Zēlos plans to qualify this Generation 1 product for inclusion in California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), which provides incentives for the installation and operation of behind-the-meter (BTM) energy storage systems. Zēlos will sell into a large and rapidly expanding market given in 2019 about 4% of distributed solar was paired with energy storage, and by 2025, the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie predict that about 24% of distributed solar will be paired with energy storage. It also has been forecast that in 2025, about 750 MW of energy storage capacity will be installed annually in California, creating the opportunity for about 180 MW of distributed storage paired with solar to be installed in California annually. This is a massive market opportunity and Zinc batteries are positioned to be ready to capture a significant portion of the residential BTM market not just in California, but nationally.
Shortly following the release of its residential product, Zēlos will unveil a containerized solution for grid-level energy storage. Cost advantages for Zinc-Manganese ESS batteries relative to Lithium-Ion will be even more pronounced at this scale, given the additional safety and BMS measures battery operators must take with utility-scale Lithium batteries.
As the grid is undergoing a fundamental transition to clean energy sources, Zinc and Manganese are key metals that will pave the way for this sea-change in battery storage. Zēlos is ready to commercialize its groundbreaking technology and enable the coming wave of renewable energy and grid electrification and resilience.