In this age of skyrocketing oil and gas prices, such a proposition certainly
makes sounds attractive. After all, even the major car manufacturers seem
to be announcing or rolling out new hybrid cars or at least focusing on
smaller, more fuel-efficient variants every
In fact, some car makers will even offer
solar panels as an option on certain models of vehicles – though its actual
practicality is questionable.
Would such an approach work though?
Probably not, according to ZPower CEO Ross Dueber, whose
company is currently developing a new battery technology for use with laptops
that is slated to be available early next year. The problem here is that
such a monumental effort requires huge sums of money upfront -- not at the back
end. Dueber reckons that $300 million is only a fraction of what it’ll
actually cost to develop a new generation of superior battery for vehicles.
Dueber should have a pretty good idea here. After all, ZPower itself is in
the midst of creating a new page in battery technology with its work in
consumer-ready silver-zinc batteries. One of the key advantages of the
silver-zinc battery technology is that it is inherently safe from explosions or
from catching fire due to the complete absence of the relatively volatile
Another attraction of silver-zinc batteries lies in its power density.
It has about 40 percent higher density than lithium-ion batteries, with plenty
of potential to safely increase its energy density. In fact, the
projected improvement in energy density could hit two-times that of lithium-polymer
In addition, the key materials in a silver-zinc battery are also fully
recyclable. Unlike downcycled lithium-ion cells, which can no longer be
reused, the recycling process for silver-zinc results in materials that are the
same quality as those that went toward the initial creation of the battery.
Assuming proper recycling, the need to mine for new raw materials will be
reduced, certainly making it more environmentally friendly.
However, are silver-zinc batteries the Holy Grail in terms of battery
safety? Dueber was candid on the relative risks. He explained, “Keep in
mind though that we safely drive around today with highly flammable gasoline in
our tanks, so personally I'm not quite sure of the relative risks when
comparing lithium-ion batteries to gasoline.”
Still, there is no doubt that silver-zinc batteries do offer increased
safety and a higher energy density. Assuming production costs does not
prove to be a barrier; it is hard to see vehicle manufacturers not wanting to
switch over to silver-zinc at some point in the future.
When asked, Dr. Dueber confirmed that vehicle batteries are definitely in
their product development roadmap, though he was coy when it came to the
details. All that I could get was “timing is undefined pending our
success in consumer electronics.”