Zinc-air batteries almost ready for mass commercialization?

First hearing aids, then computers, then electric vehicles? For several years now Toyota has acknowledged that it has been working on batteries beyond lithium.

In fact, Toyota has openly stated that the auto industry will move beyond lithium, and heavy-metal batteries, such as zinc-air, have been mentioned by Toyota on numerous occasions.

Already, zinc-air batteries can be found in hearing aids, and IBM seems to believe they’ll be much more prevalent in the next few years.

Every year IBM offers up 5 new ideas for the next five years, and this year’s list includes air-powered batteries, a category of batteries in which zinc-air could fall. Consequently, it’s reasonable to assume that IBM computers could soon ditch lithium-ion batteries in favor of zinc-air batteries, but what would that mean for autos?

Today, IBM is working on batteries for electric cars, although that doesn’t necessarily mean zinc-air batteries are ready for electric vehicles.

Lithium-ion technologies have been around for thirty years and it has taken decades to finally get them into hybrid and electric cars. Similarly, many battery researchers expect next generation batteries, such as zinc-air, to follow a similar trajectory where pricing declines, manufacturing improvements and scale are achieved in the small electronics space before heading into larger applications like cars.

Of course, zinc-air could defy those expectations.

Nevertheless, while IBM’s predictions are not always correct, this prediction does indicate that a necessary battery breakthrough could be at hand. Yes, it might still take many years, even decades, for such technologies to cost-effectively scale into the auto industry, but even getting such batteries into consumer electronics is still a big step forward.