Nickel-zinc batteries offer long-term, sustainable power for UPS

One of the central elements in the design of an uninterruptible power supply system (UPS) are the batteries to power the system. As a UPS is designed to always be on to maintain the power levels for critical operations, it’s essential that the batteries are reliable, deliver the power needed, discharge effectively and are easy to recharge. In addition, many potential users ask about safety, lifetime, footprint, weight and sustainability of batteries.

Kohler Uninterruptible Power is always researching and testing new ways to deliver pioneering power protection. As part of this work, we have been looking at the features of nickel-zinc (NiZn) batteries for UPS systems. These types of battery cells were originally invented by Thomas Edison, but fell out of use to other technologies due to limitations that recent innovations have overcome.

The drive for sustainable battery technology

The traditional solution for UPS batteries is valve-regulated lead-acid batteries (VRLA) as their reliability, versatility, sustainability and price-point makes them a good fit for such applications. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have emerged in recent years and offer a more compact, lighter and potentially longer life solution but bring challenges in terms of price and require further safety considerations, often extending to insurance implications.

With a demand for more sustainable and longer-life batteries, specialist companies have been researching how to bring NiZn technologies into the 21st century. When compared with both VRLA and Li-ion batteries, NiZn has potential to emerge as a solution which may be both more sustainable to source and operate, whilst delivering longer life than VRLA and avoiding the safety concerns of Li-ion systems.

The reasons for this are that there is more nickel and zinc available in the Earth’s crust than either lead or lithium, and their non-toxic, non-hazardous qualities make them safer both to extract and to use.

In production, NiZn batteries are claimed to exceed other battery types in terms of sustainability. The reasons for this are because they use less water and less energy to produce, and do not use any Volatile Organic Compounds – something that both lithium-ion and lead-acid battery production is stated to rely on. Post-life, whilst lead-acid batteries are extensively recycled, the backlog and challenges of efficiently recycling the materials from lithium-ion cells are extensively written about. In contrast, NiZn batteries can potentially offer lifetimes and performance similar to lithium-ion cells, but drop into existing recycling chains like VRLA ones.

NiZn performance in practice

While NiZn batteries are promoted as less harmful to the environment, they also need to deliver outstanding performance. This is particularly true for applications such as UPS and associated power systems, where reliability, discharge and recharge factors are critical.

Comparing NiZn battery technologies with existing options, we see significant opportunity for them to become an excellent alternative battery choice for KUP’s products due to them offering benefits that include:

  • Higher power density, delivering industry-leading footprint
  • Non-flammable, non-hazardous materials
  • High discharge rate
  • Long service life – potentially 2-3 times that of VRLA batteries
  • Greater temperature independence (increasing life and reducing cooling costs)
  • Increased resilience – cells remain conductive even when depleted
  • Lower internal resistance  –  batteries discharge more efficiently
  • Able to  handle deep discharges without deterioration
  • Absence of thermal runaway at the cell level

As data centre requirements continuously evolve, such as the need for more power to support AI chips, UPSs will need to deliver more power. Investigating new battery options is therefore central to designing and developing products for these future needs, and with the benefits above, NiZn technology looks certain to be part of that future.

Partnering with NiZn experts

To bring this innovative NiZn technology to KUP’s product range, we are working with leading NiZn battery specialist, ZincFive.

ZincFive, based in Oregon, has developed patented NiZn electrochemistry to produce a range of battery options for mission-critical operations. The company’s focus is not only on performance, but on safety and sustainability. The company has been recognised as one of America’s top GreenTech companies of 2024 by TIME Magazine.

We are delighted to be working with ZincFive to see how NiZn batteries can deliver even more power, reliability and sustainability to our customers – now and well into the future.

If you would like a demonstration of the ZincFive technology and our KOHLER MF Series, please get in touch.

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