U.S. Navy and Enzinc collaborate on fire-safe zinc battery development for EVs

June 20, 2024

The importance of fire safety in EV batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used in electric vehicles (EVs) due to their high energy density and fast-charging capabilities.

However, concerns over supply chain security, recycling challenges, environmental impacts, and fire hazards are prompting efforts to explore alternative battery materials.

As reported by Tina Casey for TriplePundit, the United States Navy is collaborating with U.S. zinc battery startup Enzinc to advance zinc battery technology for EVs, emphasizing fire safety.

Zinc, an abundant and inexpensive material, has a long history of use in batteries.

Despite numerous attempts over the centuries, applying zinc to EV batteries has been challenging.

In the 1990s, Northrup Grumman developed zinc batteries for a mini-submarine for the U.S. Navy, but the batteries failed, and lithium-ion batteries replaced them.

Lithium-ion batteries, though high-performing, have fire hazards due to their flammable electrolyte.

Advancements in fire-safe battery technology

Advancements in battery management systems have facilitated the safe use of lithium-ion batteries, though risks remain with misuse or damage.

Concurrently, zinc technology has progressed, with the U.S. Navy and Enzinc focusing on it as a non-flammable alternative.

In 2014, Enzinc received a $452,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to collaborate with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

This project aimed to develop a new sponge-like structure for zinc battery anodes.

ARPA-E stated: “Enzinc’s technology will enable zinc-based batteries that accept high-power charge and discharge as required by EVs.

“If successful, Enzinc’s zinc-anode technology would reduce EV battery cost by more than 50%, double the amount of energy stored, and allow for greater rechargeability.”

Enhancing fire safety in battery production

The ARPA-E grant enabled Enzinc to secure over $8 million in additional funding.

Michael Burz, Enzinc founder and CEO, stated in an ARPA-E blog post: “Receiving ARPA-E’s RANGE grant enabled us to work with the U.S.

Naval Research Laboratory to develop a revolutionary zinc microsponge anode that makes powerful, safe and sustainable batteries for vehicles, buildings and energy microgrids.”

Burz also highlighted the sustainability advantage of repurposing existing battery factories to produce zinc batteries, instead of constructing new facilities.

Existing factories for lead-acid, Nickel-Cadmium, and Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries, with over 400 gigawatt-hours of production capacity globally, can be upgraded for zinc battery production, providing a safer alternative.

Zinc batteries and fire safety innovations

The U.S. Department of Energy has also supported other zinc battery innovators, including Eos, which focuses on stationary, long-duration energy storage systems.

Last fall, the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office announced a conditional loan commitment of nearly $400 million for Eos to manufacture its new zinc-bromine battery in bulk.

Globally, the Zinc Battery Initiative, launched in 2020 by the International Zinc Association, is supporting the zinc battery supply chain, which is more geographically diverse and abundant than lithium.

Additionally, new research is finding ways to reduce costs and expand the applications of zinc batteries.

For example, a multinational research team developed an inexpensive alternative to the costly materials typically needed for zinc-air batteries, enabling lightweight, wearable battery technology.

While lithium-ion batteries will continue to dominate the market, innovations in zinc and other alternatives will help the battery industry meet the increasing global energy demands and the transition to electrification, with an added focus on fire safety.

FSJA Comment

The collaboration between the U.S. Navy and Enzinc is crucial for advancing fire-safe battery technology for electric vehicles.

The history of zinc battery development highlights the challenges and progress in seeking safer alternatives to lithium-ion technology, which is known for its fire hazards.

The support from ARPA-E and other financial commitments underscores the potential seen in zinc battery innovations.

The ability to repurpose existing battery production facilities for zinc batteries further enhances the sustainability and economic viability of this technology.

For the fire sector, the non-flammable nature of zinc batteries offers a significant advantage, reducing the risk of fire incidents related to battery misuse or damage.

As the energy storage market evolves, exploring and supporting diverse battery technologies to ensure safety and sustainability in meeting future energy demands is essential.

The progress in zinc battery development is a noteworthy example of how innovation and collaboration can drive advancements in the energy sector, specifically addressing fire safety concerns.

Read Next

Subscribe Now