Acquisition of Zinc-Air Flow Battery Developer Marks Latest “Green” Energy Stepping Stone for MGX Minerals
Prices for the minerals and metals key to manufacturing the wind turbines, solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules, and battery energy storage systems that comprise the core of the new, “green” energy economy went on a tear this past year. The comparative abundance and confidence that adequate quantities of rare earth metals, cobalt and lithium, among others, will be readily available has come under increasing scrutiny amid expectations of fast rising demand.
Vancouver-based MGX Minerals is capitalizing on this theme, embarking on a series of acquisitions and taking advantage of select opportunities to invest in and acquire an expanding range of mineral resource assets, technologies and start-ups. That now includes magnesium resources in British Columbia, an innovative silicon extraction and metal fabrication process and technology applied on ore dumps and in unproductive mines, and another that extracts high-grade lithium from oilfield wastewater brine while at the same time purifying it to the point where it's potable.
Most recently, MGX Minerals saw promise in a young company developing zinc-air fuel cell, or flow battery energy storage, technology that may well have been headed for the shelf. “This acquisition expands MGX's reach across all levels of the clean tech supply chain – from extraction and development of the minerals needed for batteries, to their mass deployment,” management stated in a press release.
Energy Central spoke with MGX Minerals' CEO Jared Lazerson to gain and share insights into the company's acquisition of ZincNyx Energy Solutions, its evolving business strategy and its significance for the power and energy industry and markets.
Commercializing a disruptive, flow battery energy storage technology
MGX Minerals on Dec. 13 announced it had signed a definitive agreement to acquire all the issued and outstanding shares of Vancouver Stock Exchange-listed ZincNyx Energy Solutions. Developer of what's billed as an inexpensive, modular, environmentally friendly and regenerative zinc-air battery energy storage system (BESS) with capacities from 5-kW to 1-MW, ZincNyx will become a 100 percent-owned subsidiary of MGX.
ZincNyx has developed a modular, regenerative, zinc-air flow battery energy storage system based on low-cost materials. Electrical energy is stored in the form of zinc ions in a solution that does not require more expensive and environmentally damaging minerals or metals, such as lithium, vanadium or cobalt, according to MGX.
Zinc ions are combined with oxygen taken in from the atmosphere to produce and dispatch electricity. Zine particles are regenerated and oxygen returned to the atmosphere when recharging. Akin to other flow battery technologies, the energy/power ratios and scalability of ZincNyx's zinc-air battery system depends on the volume of the fluid electrolyte. The greater the volume, the higher the energy storage capacity.
GMX and ZincNyx see the zinc-air flow battery system as a cheaper, lower cost and environmentally friendly alternative to the lithium-ion and other emerging flow battery solutions for stationary mass energy storage applications, from homes and businesses to larger scale commercial, industrial, campus, municipal and utility-scale operations. ZincNyx is working to deploy its first demonstration systems in early to mid-2019.
To shareholders and observers, ZincNyx may not appear to fit in neatly within MGX considering its roots and previous acquisitions. The opportunity to acquire a team of top, dedicated scientists and the rights to a promising battery energy storage technology in the final stages of commercialization at a low price was too good to pass up. Furthermore, acquiring ZincNyx is right in line with fast growing “green” energy and clean tech trends, as well as the company's evolving, overarching business strategy, Lazerson explained in an interview.
The prospect of cheap, environmentally friendly mass energy storage
MGX's assessment of ZincNyx and its battery energy storage technology is reinforced by shareholders who, along with Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), see enough promise in ZincNyx to plow C$15 million into the company so that ZincNyx can move forward and commercialize its zinc-air battery energy storage system.
Canadian Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan on Nov. 1, 2016 announced the federal government, via the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, would make a C$4 million investment in a public-private initiative to develop next-generation clean technologies. ZincNyx was invited to participate in the Discovery Frontiers initiative as an industry partner based on its work with professors from Simon Fraser University to develop new catalysts for industrial and commercial processes, such as battery energy storage.
“Alkaline technologies are efficient and robust, with the added advantage of no need for precious metal catalysts. The work outlined by Dr. [Gregory] Jerkiewicz [of Queens's University] and his team is poised to set new, world-class standards for efficient energy conversion technologies and will further improve cost-effective energy storage solutions such as those in development at ZincNyx,” said Dr. David Bruce, the principal research scientist working on catalyst development in collaboration with Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.
Variations on a common theme
One of the largest Canadian mining companies was considering shuttering ZincNyx when MGX Minerals found out about it and began negotiations to buy the company and the rights to its technology, Lazerson told Energy Central.
“Our decision to acquire ZincNyx was a somewhat opportunistic, but value-driven proposition,” Lazerson said. “We're strategically placing our 'chips,' if you will, to extend our presence and capabilities across the minerals supply chain for the new energy economy.”
“I wouldn't say it [MGX's driving organizational strategy] results from a preconceived master plan, but it is centered on and revolves around strategically acquiring mineral resources assets for the new energy economy and developing broad, mass market applications for innovative, disruptive, clean energy and clean technologies with the potential to be 'category killers,' or create a new market category entirely.”
We will share more from our discussion with MGX Minerals' CEO Jared Lazerson in part two of this series.