Zinc Air, Incorporated out of Montana has licensed the rights for a zinc air fuel cell developed by a retired chemist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The good news for hydrogen hybrid vehicle makers it that zinc is seen as a replacement for expensive platinum in fuel cells and not so environmentally friendly imported lithium in lithium-ion batteries.
According to the LLNL website, “The technology enables safe, lower-cost, clean, quiet, reliable and environmentally friendly power generation. Zinc Air Fuel Cell (ZAFC) products combine atmospheric oxygen from the air we breathe with zinc metal pellets as the fuel to generate electricity.
“In operation, the fuel cell consumes all of the zinc and is operationally quiet, providing instantaneous electrical energy with no greenhouse gas emissions. It also doesn’t contain any of the toxic elements found in lithium batteries or other battery chemistries.”
Here is a high resolution image that shows how the zinc pellets are recycled in an environmentally friendly manner. Using zinc would mean less reliance on foreign countries for both platinum for fuel cells and lithium for the hybrid batteries.
According to Zinc Air Inc. President Dave Wilkins, “At the moment, most in the auto industry are currently looking to lithium batteries as the power solution for electric vehicles, but those batteries are manufactured primarily outside of the United States and are not cost effective for widespread use. There is enough readily available zinc just in the United States to produce billions of these batteries.”
So, using zinc instead of platinum or lithium would solve four problems:
1. First, replacing higher costing materials with lower costing zinc
2. Second, less environmental impact if zinc is used
3. Third, more reliance on U. S. resources for zinc rather than other countries for the other materials already listed
4. More U. S. jobs for mining zinc and manufacturing fuel cells and batteries
The proverbial ball is in Zinc Air’s court. Now, let’s see if they run with it.