The world has only a few decades left to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst effects of global warming. The only way to do this is to replace fossil fuels with electricity in as many applications as possible and to make this electricity clean. We not only need to build a much bigger electrical system than we have today but also need to completely reimagine its design. This will only be possible with vastly improved technologies and the determination to see them rapidly deployed.
Batteries are critical in this effort because they make the supply of renewable energy reliable and electrify technologies that previously depended on fossil fuels (e.g. electric vehicles). Lithium-ion batteries are the most useful technology available because they are the best way to store a lot of energy in a light and compact package. They have made possible much of the clean energy progress to date. But solving climate change requires far more batteries than the lithium-ion supply chain can support. This means alternatives to lithium-ion are urgently needed to continue the fight against climate change. This is hard for portable applications like electric vehicles because there are very few batteries that can be as light as lithium-ion. But the batteries used to integrate renewable energy – referred to as stationary energy storage – do not have as strict requirements on weight. This opens up the possibility for dramatically better stationary batteries.
About eight years ago we scoured the research to look for promising chemistries that researchers may have missed. We quickly zeroed in on zinc. It’s too heavy for mobile applications, and lots of other zinc chemistries ended up with fatal shortcomings. After finishing his PhD on lithium-air batteries, Salient co-founder Brian Adams challenged himself to take a fresh look at zinc. He had a hunch there was untapped potential. But he didn’t try to improve on existing zinc chemistries; he started from scratch.
His breakthrough came in 2016 when he and some fellow researchers designed a battery that operates on the same principle as lithium-ion batteries, and the results are described in one of the most highly cited papers in the field. When a zinc-ion battery discharges, zinc ions leave the metal anode and are absorbed into the spaces between atoms in the cathode material, a process known as intercalation. Where past zinc chemistries have failed on some key attributes—including size, cycle life, power, or production price—Brian and his team had found a chemistry that didn’t need to compromise.
The growing team at Salient has continually improved the chemistry ever since. Aside from using one of earth’s most abundant elements—and crucially, abundant in North America—a critical feature of the Salient battery is that it can be produced on the same production lines as lithium-ion batteries. While other battery technologies have been threatened by the massive improvements in lithium-ion manufacturing, zinc-ion benefits from them. This means that our zinc-ion battery can be rapidly and inexpensively scaled. Our mission is to usher in the clean energy revolution by providing safe and low-cost energy storage that is built with materials that can scale to the size of the problem.