To Infinity and Beyond
June 2019
American rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne and battery manufacturer ZAF Energy have recently teamed up to develop an energy storage system, combining their unique respective technologies to create a more efficient battery. The collaboration aims to use ZAF’s nickel-zinc batteries and Aerojet’s battery management system in order to extend battery life and reliability for aerospace and military applications.

According to ZAF Energy’s website, the company was formed with the mission to develop high performance batteries that are safe, environmentally responsible, sustainable and economical. ZAF manufactures nickel-zinc batteries due to their excellent intrinsic properties, including high performance, long cycle life, low life-cycle cost and low environmental impact. In addition to this, nickel-zinc batteries are excellent and safe alternative to their lithium-ion and lead-acid counterparts. ZAF’s nickel-zinc batteries are made of three primary components:

  • A negative electrode, primarily composed of zinc oxide doped with nucleation, migration stabilization, and hydrogen suppressant additives. This cocktail allows to maintain a stable zinc structure throughout the life of the electrode. Previously, in the Ni-Zn battery system zinc was partially soluble in the electrolyte and would dissolve to form zincate anions; ZAF’s nucleation and migration stabilization allows to stabilize the zincate ion and mitigate this issue;
  • A positive electrode, primarily composed of nickel hydroxide and conductive agents—carbon is conventionally used as a conductive aid but ZAF has been able to successfully eliminate the carbon from their batteries, in line with their mission to be environmentally responsible.
  • Electrolyte—which is a chemical solution which allows electrical charges from one electrode to another. In the past, electrolyte would commonly dry out as a result of the production of oxygen and hydrogen from the decomposition of water. ZAF has incorporated gassing suppressant additives and a recombinant device into the battery, which recombines the oxygen and hydrogen formed from the decomposition of water.

ZAF is also able to produce large volumes of batteries thanks to its 3D current collectors which enables Ni-Zn chemistry to be scaled from a previously slow handmade process to a high volume one.

On a side note, the company also manufactures zinc-air batteries—which is commonly used in low mass applications such as hearing aids. The company states that the rechargeable version of the zinc-air battery was not a commercial success due to various technical hurdles—however, ZAF claims that it was able to overcome these hurdles and develop cells with specific energies measuring up to two times that of present lithium technology at a fraction of the cost. This innovation is currently protected by two patents and trade secrets.

The company’s zinc-air rechargeable battery is safe, recyclable, landfill compatible and uses widely available and cheap materials. Both batteries manufactured by ZAF—nickel-zinc batteries and zinc air batteries—are safe, durable, technically advance and cost-effective alternative to traditional lithium-ion batteries.

On the other hand, Aerojet Rocketdyne—ZAF’s new partner—is a leading developer and manufacturer of advanced propulsion and energetics systems for customers including the US Department of Defense, NASA and other domestic and international customers. In March 2014, the aero spatial company announced that it would replace its aging nickel-hydrogen batteries which deliver power aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with lithium-ion batteries. In April 2019, astronauts successfully installed six new lithium-ion batteries during two extra-vehicular activities.  The company planned on replacing the station’s aging nickel-hydrogen batteries with those higher-affiance Lithium-Ion batteries, over the course of four years and eight extra-vehicular activities. However, it seems as if Aerojet might now be more interested in the lithium-ion batteries’ alternative offered by ZAF Energy. Now, time will tell if the collaboration between those two companies is a successful one.