Interview: Ron MacDonald

President & CEO at Zinc8 Energy Solutions

Zinc8 ESS is based upon unique patented zinc-air battery technology

February 15, 2022. By Manu Tayal

After many iterations to our energy storage system, we have developed a battery that uses abundant and affordable materials, which provides flexibility, scalability and a stable materials supply chain. Our battery’s architecture provides the same long-duration characteristics of redox flow batteries, but at a fraction of the cost, discussed Ron MacDonald, President & CEO, Zinc8 Energy Solutions, in conversation with Manu Tayal, Associate Editor, Energetica India. Ron also discussed about the current and future market trends in the energy storage sector, his company’s Zinc-Air Battery technology, future business plans, etc. Here’re the edited excerpts from that interaction:

Que: Shed some light on the current scenario of the energy storage market globally?

Ans: We are seeing an accelerating growth of renewables worldwide to solve our climate crisis problem. Robust and economic energy storage is the solution for solving the intermittency of wind and solar energy resources, as well as increasing the efficiency of transmission and distribution on the grid. Up until now, we have used existing short-duration technologies, such as lithium-ion and costly investments in gas peaking plants to try and balance the grid.

However, with the rapid movement away from GHG producing power generation and the move towards electrification of the world’s billions of vehicles, there is a need for new, innovative and cost-effective 8+ hours long-duration energy storage. We at Zinc8 Energy Solutions believe we are that technology.

Que: Explain in brief about Zinc8 Energy and its Zinc-Air Battery Technology.

Ans: Zinc8 Energy Solutions represents a team of engineers who have put more than a decade of work into making the battery of the future. Simply put, it took a lot of time, dedication and innovation to get to where we are today, the lowest cost long-duration storage technology in the market. After many iterations to our energy storage system, we have developed a battery that uses abundant and affordable materials, which provides flexibility, scalability and a stable materials supply chain.

Our battery’s architecture provides the same long-duration characteristics of redox flow batteries, but at a fraction of the cost.

The Zinc8 ESS is a modular Energy Storage System (ESS) designed to deliver power in the range 20kW - 50MW with the capacity of 8 hours of storage duration or higher. With the advantage of rechargeable zinc-air flow battery technology, the system can be configured to support a wide range of long-duration applications for microgrids and utilities. Since the energy storage capacity of the system is determined only by the size of the zinc storage tank, a very cost-effective and scalable solution now exists as an alternative to the fixed power/energy ratio of the lithium-ion battery.

The Zinc8 ESS is based upon unique patented zinc-air battery technology. Energy is stored in the form of zinc particles, similar in size to grains of sand. When the system is delivering power, the zinc particles are combined with oxygen drawn from the surrounding air. When the system is recharging, zinc particles are regenerated, and oxygen is returned to the surrounding air.

Que: In what kind of applications Zinc8 ESS can be used?

Ans: The flexibility of the Zinc8 ESS enables it to service a wide range of applications. Typical examples include:

• Smoothing energy derived from renewable sources such as wind and solar

• Commercial/Industrial backup replacing diesel generators

• Industrial and grid-scale, on-demand power for peak shaving and standby reserves

• Grid-scale services such as alleviating grid congestion, deferring transmission/distribution upgrades, energy trading and arbitrage, and increasing renewable energy penetration.

Que: Shed some light on the Zinc8 ESS architecture design?

Ans: The Zinc8 ESS is designed according to a modular architecture that enables a wide variety of system configurations to be created from a small number of common subsystems. Each subsystem implements a single element of the technology:

• The Zinc Regeneration Subsystem (ZRS) provides the recharging function

• The Fuel Storage Subsystem (FSS) provides the energy storage function

• The Power Generation Subsystem (PGS) provides the discharging function

Que: What makes your technology unique globally?

Ans: The long-duration energy storage market is new and there are several innovative and interesting technologies currently under development to address this market. Unfortunately, many of them still have technical and cost limitations that need to be addressed in order to become a viable economic solution at this time. Zinc8 Energy Solutions is bringing to market a battery that can serve a wide range of storage durations from kilowatts to the order of megawatts. Our technology is mature, and our economics support the expansion of the long-duration storage market.

Que: Initially, which market segments are adopting your technology?

Ans: Zinc8 Energy Solutions is focused on developing and commercializing our low-cost, long-duration ZESS for utilities, microgrid, and Commercial & Industrial markets. By using the patented ZESS as a standalone or enabling technology, it allows opportunities for peak demand reduction, time-of-use arbitrage, and participation in both the value stacking programs and the distributed long-duration energy storage space, all in conjunction with the opportunity for a significant reduction in carbon footprint. The long duration (8-100+ hours) ZESS has no fire and explosion risk, has no capacity fade over an extensive lifetime, and offers complete charge operational flexibility.

Long-duration storage provides economic value at all levels of the electric grid, such as behind-the-meter applications, islanded microgrids and maximizing the efficiency of transmission and distribution systems.

The commitment to Zinc8’s long-duration storage goals by utility companies including the New York Power Authority (NYPA), a premier public college, the University of Buffalo, and a leading international cloud provider, would suggest a rapid escalation of investments into these sectors.

Que: What is your plan for taking Zinc8 Energy from pre-commercialization to volume manufacturing?

Ans: The deployments in our collaborations with NYPA and other key partners, are providing the data required for the financial markets to support the investments essential to our build out of our fabricating and manufacturing facilities which we moved into in October 2021.

Our newly upgraded and renovated facility in Richmond, BC is where the construction of multiple test zinc-air energy storage systems (ZESS) for certification to the UL / CSA battery safety standard and demonstration projects is underway.

The new facility has undergone a variety of upgrades to ensure its safety and to support various engineering activities. Modifications to the facility's electrical systems have been made to facilitate both engineering verification testing and certification validation testing for multiple ZESS's. In addition, the facility has the requisite space for nine subsystem-level engineering teams, each of which is tasked with testing and analyzing a specific subsystem of the ZESS for certification.

The energy storage systems are in various stages of development with priority given to the system assigned to the previously announced demonstration project for the cloud service provider. Each of these ZESS's is being built to test various system levels in parallel for certification and are expected to allow Zinc8 to have a certified product available for the company's production of an initial commercial 40-kilowatt ZESS anticipated in the first quarter of 2023.

We are continuing to advance towards the initial production of a certified 40-kilowatt ZESS targeting beachhead markets such as New York State. These are exciting times as we are actively transitioning the company from research and development into pre-commercialization. We have several core members of our engineering team that has been with Zinc8 from its earliest research and development days. It is understood that developing a new and potentially revolutionary technology requires years of commitment. It is their diligence and innovation that has progressed the technology to the point where we can now present a working product for certification on our path towards commercialization.

Our initial production target in early 2023 has been set by our team, based on our deep knowledge of emerging long-duration markets like New York City. The new facility has allowed for the expansion of our team through the addition of key personnel with the qualifications and past experience to move the company towards this objective. We recognize the opportunity that exists for the energy storage system market and we have worked hard to accelerate our timelines. I am pleased with our progress to date. Our previously announced energy storage systems that were purpose-built for certification and specific demonstration projects are on schedule and we expect to enter the data collection and analysis phase in the near future.

In response to the increasing demand for its proprietary cathodes, which are critical to the cell stack manufacturing process, Zinc8 is set to commence the upgrading of its cathode production facility at its original Ash Street location, which is also home to the R&D team. These upgrades will significantly increase the volume capacity of cathode production that in turn will support the future annual production of cell stacks.

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