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As the demand for carbon-neutral power becomes greater, utility providers are seeking new solutions. Wind and solar power have become especially popular. One especially important component of alternative power solutions is storing the power they produce. That requires huge batteries. Currently, lithium-ion batteries are one of the preferred storage solutions. However, some start-ups are urging utility companies to start thinking about a more cost-effective solution. Zinc batteries have some great advantages when it comes to storing power.

One of the biggest drawbacks of lithium-ion batteries is their propensity to catch fire. This can cause serious problems for utilities. For example, in California, fires that started at a utility source resulted in serious damages and home losses for several communities. Zinc batteries draw oxygen in from outside and have small holes for ventilation. They’re much safer as a result.

Lithium-ion batteries first came onto the market in a big way about 30 years ago. They have been used for everything from cars to power tools. However, they’re very costly compared to an element like zinc. Zinc is so inexpensive that one of its primary uses in the United States is in the making of pennies. Lithium is also a potentially dangerous chemical. It’s corrosive. Zinc is much safer. It’s well-known for its use in galvanized steel.

For a long time, the technology to make big zinc battery storage happen just wasn’t available. In recent years, all of that has changed. In about 2018, engineers discovered a way to create big rechargeable zinc batteries. Prior to these advances, zinc batteries were only appropriate for smaller devices like remote controls, hearing aids and toothbrushes. In fact, zinc batteries have traditionally been recommended for low-energy consumption devices. Today, start-ups including Zinc8, e-Zn Inc. and NantEnergy Inc. have all been working to educate utility companies about the newly expanded possibilities zinc batteries offer.

Some states are very interested in the potential zinc batteries have to offer. In New York State, a demonstration project has been agreed to. The provider, Canadian company Zinc8, expects to be able to produce back-up power for large buildings at a cost of only $250 per kilowatt hour. This could be a great solution for state and city-run buildings including locations like college campuses.