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Ramkumar Krishnan: "Energy markets require multiple energy storage solutions with different duration capabilities"

Ramkumar Krishnan will speak at R-Zinc on October 15.

What is your contribution in the world of zinc batteries ? 

I am an entrepreneur, inventor and technology leader in clean energy solutions and have over 20 years of leadership and expertise in energy storage, generation and conversion technologies. Born in the same year Wallace Broecker popularized the term “Global Warming” through his seminal report on climate change, I have always had a penchant for using my technical and leaderships skills to study problems, build teams to develop solutions that greatly impact humanity. After I earned my PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working on nanoscale materials and systems design, I joined Motorola research labs and led technology development of novel 3-dimensional micro fuel cells, solid state batteries and nanomaterials for solar cells. Later, I joined the founding team of Fluidic Energy (renamed to NantEnergy) to work on energy storage technologies using safe, earth-abundant, sustainable and low-cost materials such as zinc. While zinc is commonly used in primary batteries, the problem of zinc dendrite formation and poor cycle life of rechargeable zinc batteries is long-standing, one that even befuddled Thomas Edison. My technology team and I played an instrumental role in the development of novel additives, system architecture, electrode design and air cathodes. Under my leadership, we launched the world’s first rechargeable zinc-air product in 2011, scaling the technology from the lab to 100,000+ batteries around the world. Today, NantEnergy has over 120 patents, $200+ million invested and have displaced over a million lead acid batteries and 4 million liters of diesel with clean zinc-air energy storage technology in telecom and microgrid markets. Driving the team to expand past the chemistry itself, I led the development of hybrid energy storage solutions with DC power management, storage, BMS electronics, software and remote monitoring capabilities on a modular and scalable platform.

In 2017, India Energy Storage Alliance listed me as one of the top 50 most influential people in Energy Storage and Microgrids. Other accolades under my leadership, include 2015 Global Cleantech 100, and BNEF “New Energy Pioneers 2017”. I have published both in top scientific journals as well as in business and technology publications. I am a board member of California Energy Storage Alliance and also on the technical advisory board of BattGenie, Inc., a company developing model based fast algorithms for battery management. I have served as entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Washington Clean Energy Testbeds and regularly mentor entrepreneurs in the clean energy and nanomaterials space.

Why participating to R-Zinc? What do you think of the concept?

Today, nearly 2 million people are impacted adversely from illegal lead smelting related to used lead acid batteries. According to WHO, 1 in 8 total global deaths are a result of air pollution exposure. Zinc is one of the most abundant elements on Earth’s crust that is also clean and easy to recycle. R-zinc brings all companies, governments, research organizations and academia working on rechargeable zinc energy storage together to explore ways to partner, collaborate and work together. I hope that R-Zinc will serve as a thrust to develop cost-effective zinc energy storage that is safe, sustainable, reliable and clean and further increases the penetration of clean energy from renewables. Growing up in India, I knew firsthand the impact of affordable, reliable energy on the lives of people and communities. Reliable electricity is still a problem even in urban cities and I have spent many nights reading and writing with the aid of light from candles or kerosene lamps. Lack of electricity has prevented many millions of people including my parents to get school education and healthcare. It is immensely rewarding to be part of R-Zinc and contribute to the engaging discussions on technology and products that changes people’s lives by providing access to clean energy and economic growth.

What is your dedicated technology and where do you see the place of the zinc in the energy world (present and future, rechargeable or not)?

I have worked on a number of different zinc energy storage technologies including zinc-air. Energy markets require multiple energy storage solutions with different duration capabilities – sprinters, marathoners and ultramarathoners. Technologies such as zinc-air are marathoners and are well suited for telecom (lead acid and DG elimination), microgrids (DG-less PV+ Storage) and utility scale (displacing gas peakers). Technologies like Nickel-zinc are sprinters and are well suited for load shifting, UPS etc. By combining different zinc as well as other storage technologies, we can stack multiple benefits to customers and markets. There are also other exciting new zinc storage technologies like zinc-ion that will open up additional markets even including mobile applications.