Founded in 2012, Toronto-based e-Zinc has developed a breakthrough, low-cost electrochemical technology for storing energy in zinc metal. This flexible, long-duration energy storage solution will provide the platform for the world’s energy markets to be fully powered by renewable energy, enabling a zero-carbon energy future. We spoke to CEO James Larsen to learn more about e-Zinc and the company’s exciting vision.
Describe your core technology(ies). What makes your solution different than anything else on the market? How is your company contributing to a cleaner, greener future?
James Larsen: e-Zinc’s technology focuses on long-duration energy storage. Our system can store tens or hundreds of hours of energy capacity while being significantly cheaper than battery technologies.
Everything we do as a company is influenced by our vision to provide access to affordable, clean, and reliable energy for all. In fact, it’s why our founder, Dr. Gregory Zhang, selected zinc metal as the energy carrier. Zinc is stable, it has a high energy density, and it’s a relatively inexpensive resource.
Furthermore, zinc metal is detached from electrodes, which allows the metal to be stored independently at a low cost. With batteries, the energy-bearing metal is fixed on the electrodes. To put it in simpler terms, if energy is soda, a battery is like a can or bottle. It’s a fixed volume; you can’t change how much is inside. Our solution is more like a SodaStream. We can continue to make energy and the size of the container doesn’t really matter.
For e-Zinc, another advantage is that our IP is based on process, not components and materials. We don’t use precious metals or rare earth minerals or other specialized resources. Zinc is found in most countries, and it’s more plentiful than lithium, which many batteries use. It’s also more sustainable – about 40% of the world’s annual zinc production comes from recycling markets.
Other than coffee, what gets you out of bed in the morning? How does this work connect with your core beliefs and values?
Larsen: Ultimately, we’re trying to solve the world’s energy problems. The market for long-duration storage is still a few years away – several studies say that it won’t exist until we reach 60% renewable energy on the grid. We want to be part of that market, but with our tech we can also serve near-term markets, including storage requirements for the 24-48-hour range. This means we can directly replace diesel generators. Our solution has incredible potential for positive social and environmental impact – that’s important to me, personally, and it aligns well with our team’s vision and values.
Tell us about a recent win (or wins) or your company.
Larsen: As part of an international solicitation for non-lithium-ion battery technologies, e-Zinc won a US $1.3-million grant from the California Energy Commission to demonstrate our zinc battery for the commercial and industrial market. In California, utilities are being forced to shut down power for several days due to wildfires. When this happens, some people and businesses use diesel generators. Other people are turning to batteries, but they don’t last long enough. We proposed using e-Zinc’s solution to help customers lower their energy bills and help provide resilience. Our first project demonstration project is happening at a greenhouse operation just outside of Los Angeles.
Here at home, we’ve received grants from the Industrial Research Assistance Program, Sustainable Technology Development Canada, and Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada. These funds are going toward the construction of our first in-field demonstration project – a full e-Zinc system at a manufacturing facility in the Greater Toronto Area. We’re working toward completion this September. This is a huge milestone for our company.
What’s next for your company?
Larsen: We’re in the process of raising Series A financing, which we’ll use to establish our low-volume manufacturing capabilities. We want to build cells of consistent quality, complete more field projects, and validate our manufacturing plan. Doing this will unlock our ability to do a subsequent raise to scale manufacturing.
Finally, what’s on your team’s wish list for Ontario’s cleantech sector?
Larsen: We have everything here within our own borders to create a globally dominant battery industry, including some of the world’s largest zinc, copper, and nickel reserves. Ontario is also a manufacturing powerhouse. We have the system integration technical expertise, and we have demand – including from people living in remote areas who no longer want to rely on diesel to power their communities. With right level of coordination between the private and public sector, there can be smart ways to bolster the industry. To have a future that’s big and bold, we need to invest in working together across the supply chain, and we need to continue our commitment to moving toward renewable energy.
Image courtesy of e-Zinc