Silver-zinc — the Battery of the Past and Future

Lithium Ion batteries, several varieties of them, are the mainstream these days, for everything from cameras and laptops to the latest electric cars. They’re good on many levels, but not without dangers. IT’s not common, but sometimes they overheat — VERY abruptly, and catch fire or explode. This puts them into the Danger Zone category, meaning that we still need to be working on something newer, better.

Or do we? Silver-Zinc is the new best thing. It’s not really new, though. The military and aerospace industries have been using silver-zinc batteries for some time now, with tremendous success, but they were never made to be rechargeable.

Whereas a Lithium battery has a cobalt core and uses a highly flammable liquid as their electrolyte, the Silver-Zinc batteries have something far more safe, less volatile, in their center: Pure, simple water. What makes the technology even better is that they can produce about 40 percent more power at the same size. But that’s still not the best part.

ZPower, a California company, is developing a Silver-Zinc battery — with a very responsible twist. They promise to be the first battery manufacturer to buy back the batteries after they’ve been depleted, to recycle the silver. How much? Ross Duebner, CEO of ZPower, isn’t promising, but says it’ll be in the tens of dollars. They can do it, because they find that their battery is about 95% recyclable by weight. Lithium Ion batteries may be recycled as well, but it’s only technically true. What happens with them is that they’re melted down for their lithium and cobalt, and the other parts of the battery help fuel the fires that do it, so TECHNICALLY they’re being recycled… kinda…sorta… right? Meanwhile, Silver-Zinc batteries have no toxic chemicals in them, and no dangerous heavy metals. Moreover, once the silver is mined, by recycling it, silver-zinc batteries become a closed loop, a renewable source of rechargeable batteries.

Their new laptop battery should extend at least two hours beyond a 5 hour Lithium battery’s useable time; ZPower’s Silver-Zinc laptop batteries are expected to run your computer for at least seven hours on a charge.

That’s a pretty big boast. Considering their backers, ZPower may just be able to back it up. Intel and OnPoint Technologies, which is a venture capital fund of the U.S. Army, are amongst those on board with ZPower.

At least at first, these batteries won’t be any cheaper than Lithium. Silver isn’t inexpensive, and they do deliver more power, but we’re hoping that the price will come down. Maybe silver-zinc technology will end up being the standard for all sorts of batteries, a welcome solution for storing alternative energy sources.

A key part of the Green nature of the silver-zinc battery remains that it’s truly able to be recycled, not just burnt to a crisp and then having a few key elements floated back out in a smelting pot. Despite claims to the contrary, that’s pretty much exactly what happens when Lithium Ion batteries are supposedly “recycled.”

But will people do so? Will they return their silver-zinc batteries, or just toss them in the trash? With the buyback program in place and financially viable, it should be a no-brainer that people will turn them in. ZPower cites that large bulky lead batteries are recycled at least 90 percent of the time. Then again, they’re in your car already, and your car’s at the shop so, to the consumer, Recycling amounts to disposing at the same time. There’s minor room for concern, but the buy-back program should ensure that the metals are recycled.

It seems like silver-zinc technology could very well be our next Green thing.

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