Sekunyit Island is so remote it takes 3 hours by road and 5 hours of sailing to reach it.
How to Give 100 Million People Clean Electric Power
By Bill Moore
For the inhabitants of Sekunyit Island, solar power is their only viable source of electricity, made possible by a microgrid backed up by Fluidic Energy's zinc-air storage batteries.
"For $1.20 worth of zinc, we can store as much energy as $7 of lead and $17 of lithium."
That's the claim Fluidic Energy CEO Steve Scharnhorst is making for his firm's zinc-air battery technology.
If you own a digital watch or your father uses hearing aids, you're familiar with zinc-air. We commonly refer to them as "button batteries" because that's what they look like: buttons. Generally, they are primary batteries, meaning once they're drained of energy, you have to replace them. They can't be recharged, though researchers have been trying for at least two decades.
Zinc has a lot going for it, as Scharnhorst explains. First of all is its high power capacity, followed by its relative crustal abundance. It's the 25th most common chemical element on earth after nickel (24th) and ahead of copper (26th). By comparison, lithium ranks 33rd and lead ranks 38th. For one-time use button batteries, they're great. For rechargeable ones, not so much.
The problem is dendrites, tiny metallic accretions that gradually build up on the cathode and short out the battery. According to Scharnhorst, starting in 2006 his team, based at Arizona State University in Tempe, began working towards a solution. By 2011, they had solved the problem by combining several different approaches: how they charged and discharged the battery, by introducing a proprietary additive to their electrolyte, and by tweaking the design of their air-side anode.
They began commercialization of the battery in 2011. Because of the battery's power density, they are focused on stationary renewable energy storage in the developing world. In at least one location, Sekunyit Island off the coast of Indonesia and pictured above, you have to travel 3 hours by car and another 5 hours by sail boat to reach it. The solar microgrid system there provides power for 46 households.
Scharnhorst explains that it's the Phoenix-based company's goal to provide 100 million people in the world with reliable electric power by 2025. You can learn how they plan to do that by listening to our entire 36-minute conversation using the embedded MP3 player below or by downloading the file to your computer for playback on the device or your choice.
Originally published: 06 Feb 2017
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