From transistors to lasers, satellites to circuit boards, photocopiers to fuel cells, zinc is truly among the most versatile and essential materials known to mankind.
When asked to describe how zinc is used, most people name vitamins, or perhaps sun creams. Some may add coatings or die cast parts to the list, but few are aware of the extent to which zinc, and zinc-based technology, contributes to our daily lives. Zinc is integrally involved in transportation, medicine, infrastructure, renewable energy, electronics, and even food security. It has unique properties that allow it to contribute solutions to many problems, now and well into the future.
As a protective coating for steel, zinc has no equal. From automobile body panels and underbody parts, appliances, gas pumps, mailboxes, street furniture, vineyard wire and buildings, the life-extension and finishing options made possible by modern zinc coatings are staggering.
Metal castings are extremely important to the global economy and are used in 90% of all finished manufactured products. One-third of these are produced by die casting and the family of zinc casting alloys offer unmatched properties and economics. From cell phones to faucets, zinc castings touch our lives every day.
The beauty, longevity and sustainability of zinc sheet has made it a popular material for roofing, wall clading, gutters and downspouts, flashing, and weathering applications.
Adding zinc fertilizer to soils can significantly increase crop yield, boost nutritional value in humans, and improve farmers incomes.
Zinc dusts and powders are an indispensable raw material for a multitude of everyday products including batteries, ceramics, cosmetics, glass, pharmaceuticals, plastics, rubber and paints. In fact, zinc oxide is such an important use of zinc that it has its own association and website.
Despite its many essential uses, sometimes zinc is used purely for entertainment. Have you ever wondered how things glow in the dark? All glow-in-the-dark products contain phosphors. A phosphor is a substance that radiates visible light after being energized.
To make a glow-in-the-dark object, you want a phosphor that is energized by normal light and that has a very long persistence. Zinc sulfide has these properties and is used to create everything from luminescent watch dials to glow-in-the-dark toys. Zinc’s phosphorescent properties have also made it a key ingredient in X-ray and TV screens, fluorescent lights and light emitting diodes.
In 1799, Italian physicist Alessandro Volta created the first electrical battery that could provide continuous electrical current to a circuit. The voltaic pile used zinc and copper for electrodes with brine-soaked paper for an electrolyte.
Zinc has been an important part of batteries ever since. Zinc-alkaline batteries (D, C, AA and AAA cells) are widely used for radios, flashlights, cameras, and toys. Button cell zinc-air batteries are commonly used in hearing aids, calculators, and watches.
Zinc is also a key ingredient in a new design of high-energy rechargeble batteries capable of powering cell phone towers and even entire villages many hours longer than previously possible with other battery chemistries. Some key facts about these systems:
Deployed in Over 110 Villages in Africa and Asia
Provide Sole Source Power to 200,000 People
Power Over 1,000 Telecom Towers Providing Service to 4 Million People
Prevented Discharge of Over 50,000 Metric Tonnes of CO2
Eliminated 4 Million Liters of Diesel Fuel