Zinc: The Future Is Bright!

May 22, 2024

The fourth most used metal in the world behind iron, aluminum, and copper, zinc is having a well-deserved moment in the spotlight due to its importance for the future of renewable energy. With the two top producing zinc mines in the United States located in Alaska, Red Dog Mine near Kotzebue, and Hecla Greens Creek Mine near Juneau, this future-focused state has the ability to be a key player in providing the materials needed for the energy transition. 

The Range Is Wide

Zinc’s importance spans multiple industries and is particularly significant for its role facilitating the energy transition:

  • Energy Storage: Zinc-based batteries, such as zinc-air and zinc-ion batteries, are emerging as promising energy storage solutions. These batteries offer advantages in terms of energy density, safety, and cost-effectiveness compared to traditional lead-acid batteries. Zinc batteries can be used for grid-scale energy storage, renewable energy integration, and electric vehicle applications, helping to balance supply and demand in the transition to a more sustainable energy system.
  • Renewable Energy Integration: Zinc can facilitate the integration of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, into the electricity grid. Zinc batteries can store excess energy generated by renewable sources during periods of high production and release it during times of high demand or when renewable energy generation is low. This helps to smooth out fluctuations in renewable energy output and improve grid stability and reliability.
  • Electric Vehicles: Zinc can contribute to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles by enabling the development of lightweight, high-performance battery systems. Zinc-ion batteries, in particular, show promise for use in electric vehicles due to their high energy density, fast charging capabilities, and low cost. By replacing lead-acid batteries in conventional vehicles, zinc batteries can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality in urban areas.
  • Infrastructure Development: Zinc is used in the construction and maintenance of renewable energy infrastructure such as wind turbines, solar panels, and energy storage systems. Zinc coatings provide corrosion protection for metal structures, extending their lifespan and reducing maintenance costs. Additionally, zinc-based materials and components are used in electrical systems, plumbing, and HVAC systems, supporting the efficient operation of renewable energy facilities and grid infrastructure.
  • Energy Efficiency: Zinc plays a role in improving energy efficiency in lighting, heating, and cooling systems. Zinc-based coatings and materials help to reduce energy losses by minimizing corrosion and improving thermal insulation. By enhancing the performance and longevity of energy-efficient technologies, zinc contributes to overall energy savings and sustainability.

Zinc's versatility makes it a valuable resource for supporting the transition to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. As technologies continue to evolve and demand grows for renewable energy and energy storage solutions, zinc is likely to play an increasingly important role in powering the transition to a low-carbon economy with Alaska positioned as a key player.