- The New York Power Authority (NYPA) last week announced plans to install a demonstration zinc-air energy storage system, with developer Zinc8 Energy Solutions.
- The 100 kW/1 MWh project stems from a competitive "innovation challenge" conducted by NYPA last year, and will serve as back-up power for grid-level demand, according to a press release.
- The zinc-air project is part of the effort to meet New York's long-term energy goals, NYPA Director of Research, Technology Development and Innovation Alan Ettlinger told Utility Dive. The state is aiming to install 3 GW of energy storage by 2030 and generate 100% of its electricity using zero-carbon sources by 2040.
Lithium-ion batteries currently dominate the battery storage market, but zinc-air technology has its own appeal — especially since it's inexpensive, made with widely abundant materials, and is easy to dispose of, according to Jason Burwen, vice president of policy at the Energy Storage Association.
"Zinc is pretty low when it comes to toxicity. So that impact on both cost and the handling and ultimate disposal of batteries makes it so that there's a reason why folks are really interested to push zinc forward," he told Utility Dive.
NYPA selected the zinc air project from 60 applicants who participated in its innovation challenge, launched last May. The challenge was aimed at commercializing new technologies to help New York reach its clean energy goals.
The state is aiming to decarbonize its electric sector by 2040 and the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act signed in 2019 sets New York on the path to 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035, 6 GW of distributed solar by 2025 and 3 GW of storage by 2030.
"This collaboration will showcase a low-cost, long duration solution that addresses the unpredictability of renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar, and offers environmental and efficiency benefits," NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones said in a statement.
NYPA chose this in part because the technology appeared to be further along in the research realm, Ettlinger said. Zinc also does not have any of the fire safety concerns associated with lithium-ion.
"Really, the only batteries being used right now for energy storage are lithium-ion batteries and there's a significant fire risk in using those batteries. So what this does is use zinc and, as a result of a chemical reaction, it produces electricity which we then use as a means for actually storing the energy," he said.
The project will be located in western New York and NYPA is currently looking for potential sites. It expects to select the site in the first quarter of 2020, and install the system in 2022.
In the meantime, the company is working on developing the actual storage container and controls for the unit, according to Ettlinger. After piloting this project, NYPA plans to look into expanding to a larger-sized battery and eventually moving on to something grid-scale.
"It's early technology, but [with] our research of the papers and what's out in the industry, we think this shows a tremendous amount of promise," Ettlinger said.
However, zinc-air batteries are better suited for certain uses than others, Fabio Albano, vice president of technology at zinc-air battery developer NantEnergy told Utility Dive.
The technology isn't a strong player to deploy three hours of storage and then replenish within three hours. But if the goal is to store energy for longer times — for instance, accumulate energy from solar generation during the day and then deploy it at night, when renewables are not active, zinc-air is a good candidate, he said.
NantEnergy built a 95.1 kWh zinc-air storage system for Duke Energy, as part of a microgrid that helps power emergency communications in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
"Zinc-air has an important role there because of the low cost. The main issue with lithium entering grid storage is that for one, there [are] not enough lithium batteries in the world to supply the scale of the electrical grid and for two, the cost will be too much," said Albano.