The NAATBatt Workshop on Zinc Battery Technology in New York City concluded on Friday, November 16.  Informal reviews from among the 100+ attendees indicate that it might have been NAATBatt’s best program yet.  Significantly, the Workshop was the first program that NAATBatt has ever sold out in its 10-year history.  That should tell you something, both about zinc batteries and about NAATBatt.

The Workshop examined the state of the art in zinc battery technology.  It featured presentations by companies currently offering zinc-air, zinc bromide, nickel zinc, zinc silver, zinc and manganese oxide battery systems for sale in the marketplace.  The capabilities of those various systems, and to a lesser extent some of their challenges, were highlighted in a series of company presentations.

The Workshop also featured presentations by leading academic experts working on zinc battery technology.  Zinc batteries are not new.  They were some of the earliest batteries developed during the modern age.  But challenges having to do with low voltage and limited cycle life have generally made rechargeable zinc batteries a poor sister to lead acid and, more recently, lithium-ion technology.  A series of academic presenters outlined some of the progress that has been made in addressing those issues. Attendees also received insight into where and how future progress in improving zinc battery technology is likely to be made.

The era of poor sisterhood for zinc batteries may be ending.  While zinc batteries are unlikely to displace lithium-based batteries in high voltage vehicle applications anytime soon, the progress that has been made in addressing cycle life issues combined with the cost, safety and environmental advantages that zinc enjoys over lithium-ion technology may lead to opportunities for zinc batteries in a number of battery markets sooner than many imagine.  Supplying back up power to data centers and in stationary energy storage systems are two areas of particular interest.

The upshot of the Workshop is that lithium-ion technology, which has received the lion’s share of attention in the battery industry over the last ten years, may soon have some serious competition.   The domination of the lithium-ion battery supply chain by Asian companies is increasingly becoming an issue.  Longstanding concerns about the cost, safety and recycleability of lithium-ion systems may also soon push users of advanced industrial batteries to start looking for alternatives. One of those alternatives is likely to be zinc-based batteries.

Given the high interest in zinc, NAATBatt will likely modify the program for its 2019 Annual Meeting (March 11-14, 2019) in Phoenix to include some of the material covered at the Workshop.  If you were turned away from registering for the workshop, please consider coming to the 2019 Annual Meeting and hearing about some of the things you missed.  In any event, issues related to zinc battery technology are likely to feature more prominently in NAATBatt programs going forward.