AUSTIN, Texas -- Anzode has an update on the world's oldest battery chemistry, and wants about $8 million to prove it can roll it out in mass production.
The startup is working on a rechargeable nickel-zinc battery developed at Massey University in New Zealand, one that CEO Chris Officer claims can live through about 1,200 complete discharges and recharges.
That could represent a big improvement over the latest rechargeable zinc-based batteries on the market today, Officer said. It could then open up the technology to a wide range of greentech applications, from plug-in hybrid batteries to small-scale grid powerstorage
"Every battery has its niche. Nickel zinc is about to find its niche after 200 years," Officer said Wednesday at the Clean Energy Venture Summit in Austin, Texas.
That's a common refrain among zinc battery developers, who note that zinc was in the first battery ever – the voltaic pile developed by Italian scientist Alessandro Volta, the man whose name gave us the word "volt."
Thomas Edison patented the first rechargeable version of a nickel-zinc battery in 1901, and such a battery was used to power an Irish railway in 1939, Officer added. But like another other age-old battery chemistry, lead acid, older nickel zinc batteries "didn't like recharging," limiting them to about 250 cycles or so, he said (see video here).
Then, in 2000, a Massey University team created a technique that formed nanotubes within a zinc battery, he said. Those appear to have prevented the nickel-zinc chemistry from the shape change that has prevented previous batteries from undergoing repeated recharge, he said.
Anzode, which has received seed funding from government sources and and investors including the Manawatu Investment Group, has tested those experimental results in production with Indian manufacturer HBL Power Systems since 2007, Officer said. That work has yielded nickel-zinc batteries that can discharge and recharge more than 500 times, he said.
But Anzode's technique should be able to yield batteries that can go 1,200 cycles at 100 percent depth of discharge, he said. If the batteries were only allowed to discharge down to 60 percent and back up to 80 percent – the same limits Toyota places on the nickel metal hydride batteries in its Toyota Prius hybrid – that could extend Anzode's battery lifespan to about 20,000 cycles or so, he claimed.
That could well open up markets ranging from rechargeable batteries for hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, as well as small, distributed batteries that could store grid power at homes and office buildings, unlike the heavy sodium-sulfur and flow batteries now being considered for big grid storage applications (see Grid Energy Storage: Big Market, Tough to Tackle).
That would be a big deal for nickel zinc batteries, which happen to be made from some of the most common metals on earth, he noted. That differentiates them from lithium-ion batteries, which use lithium, a super-light metal that has a limited source of supply, though efforts to expand it are underway (see Geothermal Power, Lithium Mining Two-in-One in California).
Nickel zinc batteries also avoid the safety problems inherent in lithium-ion batteries, he noted, which need to be closely controlled with sophisticated circuitry to avoid their propensity for thermal runaway - that is, catching on fire (see What's Next in Lithium Batteries?).
Still, nickel-zinc batteries don't hold the promise to reach the same energy densities per weight and volume that lithium-ion batteries offer, he said.
"We can't go some places," he said. "Nickel zinc will never go in a cell phone or a laptop."
That view, of course, is likely to be contested by other makers of rechargeable zinc-based batteries targeting those markets, such as PowerGenix and ZPower. PowerGenix, for one, says its nickel zinc batteries have a cycle life of 100 to 500 recharges, and is targeting the cell phone market, while ZPower is looking to power laptops (see Zinc Battery Maker Moves to Amazon, Will Zinc Phones be Next?).
Another emerging technology, zinc-air batteries, also hold the promise of much higher energy densities per weight and volume, though most will need to have their byproduct, zinc oxide, removed and new zinc added to accomplish recharge. Lithium-air batteries are also a hot area of research, since they could offer lithium's lightweight advantages in a similarly advanced configuration (see Electricity From Air and Zinc? A Growing Chorus Says Yes and A Car Powered By Zinc?).
But Anzode's batteries, in contrast, could be made using well-known processes on mildly modified existing manufacturing lines, Officer said.
With an investment of $6 million to $8 million, Anzode, now based in San Francisco, hopes to spend the next 12 to 18 months proving out its ability to mass-produce batteries in both cylindrical and planar formations, he said.
Anzode is also working with New Zealand utility Meridian Energy, Officer said.