MGX Minerals, the company looking to get lithium from oil, is also planning to mass produce a zinc-based flow battery “within the year.”

MGX CEO Jared Lazerson told GTM the flow battery is “going to final design” after ZincNyx Energy Solutions, which MGX acquired in December, this month worked out how to solve a reliability issue caused by the growth of zinc dendrites in the battery’s zinc-air chemistry.

The company is now looking to be able to produce 1,000 units annually by this time next year, he commented. “This is a true mass-production phase,” according to Lazerson.

The company is aiming for a price of $16,000 for a 20-kilowatt-hour product with an output of 5 kilowatts per hour. An equivalent system from Tesla would cost around $56,000, or three times as much, he said.

The ZincNyx battery is made up of a regenerator for charging, a storage tank, and a fuel-cell stack for discharging. The design means the battery can charge at the same time as it discharges, and can be scaled by increasing the size of the storage tank.

“If you want 20 kilowatt-hours of storage, then [it’s] one size of fuel tank; if you want 100 kilowatt-hours of storage, [it's a] different size fuel tank,” Lazerson explained. “Same thing on the fuel cell side. If you want more output, then you just add more fuel cells.”

The product will scale up to 100 kilowatt-hours at relatively little additional cost, according to Lazerson. Above 100 kilowatt-hours of capacity, the ZincNyx battery would need a different form factor, perhaps with a second storage tank.

Overcoming dendrite formation was a key step in being able to develop the product commercially, Lazerson said. ZincNyx has found a way to break the dendrites down so they can go back into the regeneration system.

The technology breakthrough “is neither here nor there in terms of cost,” Lazerson said.

The ZincNyx flow battery is covered by more than 20 patents and has received $50 million in investment over the last seven years, he said.

It has gone through two phases of product prototyping. ZincNyx has a distribution agreement with “a major German group” specializing in diesel generators and off-grid power supplies, according to Lazerson.

The company also has lined up an Indonesia-based industrial customer looking to move from diesel to solar-plus-storage.

ZincNyx is mainly hoping to sell the flow battery to commercial and industrial customers looking for backup and load balancing, Lazerson said. The company is also in talks with solar players, he noted.

Compared to other flow battery designs, such as those based on vanadium, he said the ZincNyx is simpler, with just one tank instead of two, and it has lower exposure to commodity prices.

“This is a low-cost solution, and it will remain a low-cost solution,” he said.  

This month, a note from the Bank of Montreal said: “Chinese market assessments for vanadium pentoxide have risen by over 20 percent already this year, to $11.80 per pound, while those for ferrovanadium exports are up almost 10 percent to $49 per kilo.”

In contrast, zinc was trading at around $1.55 per pound this month. The price has rarely gone beyond $1.60 since 1989. For comparison, cobalt and nickel, two key ingredients in lithium-ion batteries, were this month priced at around $35 and $5.60 per pound, respectively.

MGX, which develops lithium, magnesium and silicon projects, is clearly looking to benefit from the popularity of lithium-ion batteries -- while at the same time offering a lower-cost alternative that uses much cheaper materials.

The company this month announced a partnership with the gasification technology developer Highbury Energy to extract nickel, vanadium and cobalt from petroleum coke.