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Zinc Battery Initiative seeks to frame the mineral as lithium alternative

The supply gap for lithium is estimated at 24% less than demand

IMAGE: Zinc fragments
Fragments of zinc. (Courtesy the Zinc Battery Initiative)

Zinc-based batteries and battery technology are poised to become a significant player in the net-zero mission – so hopes the Zinc Battery Initiative (ZBI).

The ZBI was founded in 2020 as an endeavour of the Durham, N.C.-based International Zinc Association to raise awareness of the advantages of zinc batteries. Its members include Canadian companies eZinc, Zinc8 Energy Solutions (ZAIR-CN) and Salient Energy.

According to its website, the International Zinc Association represents 60 per cent of worldwide production of zinc and 80 per cent of production in the western hemisphere.

Josef Daniel-Ivad, the manager of the ZBI, explained to SustainableBiz zinc-based batteries were a relatively new concept for the association, which is part of the reason the ZBI was founded.

“Batteries (are) new for us. This is why I said they started this incubator initiative to help the zinc battery developers get noticed and find the acceptance within this community of applications there,” he said.

Aside from his role as manager, Daniel-Ivad, based in Toronto, has held many executive positions within battery technology companies over the last 30 years.

The zinc battery market

“It has the advantage of being very available, and it's the first most abundant element in this class. We have plenty of zinc available and that's a great advantage," Daniel-Ivad said. "It's also not located in just in one location. It’s global, mined in over 60 countries. And so you have the security of supply, and the diversity there."

“Plus, you have the great sustainability feature of zinc. It's very . . . recyclable. It has established routes.”

A McKinsey study estimates the global battery energy storage system market will reach between $162 billion and $203 billion by 2030. At the same time, a separate study from the Boston Consulting Group estimates the supply gap for lithium will reach 1.1 million tonnes – or 24 per cent less than demand.

That study also states lithium-ion batteries are used for 90 per cent of the grid energy storage around the world.

For Daniel-Ivad, the shortcomings of lithium come down to its price and scarcity, as well as the fact it's difficult to extinguish in the unfortunate event of a fire. Salient Energy states on its website zinc emits one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions of lithium, on top of being 50 per cent cheaper.

“If everything runs on lithium, we're not going to have enough,” he said. “So we really need the various options.”

Zinc is poised to shoulder some of that energy burden. A Custom Market Insights report from April states the global zinc-ion battery market will reach $18 billion by 2030.

“My main focus is education. So to get the message out that there are zinc batteries that are around. And that's (the) number one focus,” Daniel-Ivad said. “But in general, we want to hold initiatives to get all the zinc battery developers under one roof.”

The zinc battery industry in Canada

Daniel-Ivad explained that Canada, like any country wanting to stake a claim in the industry, should have its governments invest into more zinc battery projects to take away some of the risks from investors.

Canada is a resource-rich country. Natural Resources Canada cites the U.S. Geological Survey, which states that in 2021, the world’s zinc reserves were estimated at approximately 250 million tonnes. Canada ranks ninth in zinc reserves, with approximately 5.4 million tonnes.

“On the resource side, Canada has a lot of strengths,” Daniel-Ivad said. “If you look at the battery companies, I mean, all of them are looking towards doing demonstrations in the States, because it seems that there is much more support and money available south of the border.”

Toronto-based eZinc is moving toward commercialization of its zinc-based long duration energy storage technology, which it states has a high energy density, is inexpensive, scalable and fully recyclable.

Salient Energy in Dartmouth, N.S. produces zinc-ion batteries for electrical grid applications — Daniel-Ivad explained the company is essentially trying to model the lithium-ion approach when it comes to manufacturing and commercialization.

Zinc8 Energy Solutions, meanwhile has developed a long duration energy storage system that combines zinc particles with oxygen from the surrounding air. According to Daniel-Ivad, the company is looking at the manufacturing gap in the U.S., in part thanks to the various incentives.

He believes Canada could be a leader in the space, given time.

“We have the companies that are involved that are the leaders in the field. There's the universities that do work so there is more potential there,” he said. “So Canada has definitely got enough in the mix there.”

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