The nascent vanadium-based energy storage industry is finding market opportunities where lithium ion isn’t suitable.
The cost of lithium ion batteries continues to fall making longer duration energy storage deployments economically feasible using this technology. That makes the market for alternatives tough to crack. But proponents of vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFBs) are fighting hard to carve out niches and share.
Flow batteries that use vanadium chemistry are appealing because of their low degradation – they can be cycled thousands of times over with little impact on performance – and their long duration.
But today, VRFBs, and other flow battery systems, are not bankable because they are not warrantied for the long-term, such as 10 years. However, some large-scale players that are manufacturing flow batteries, including Japan’s Sumitomo and Germany’s Schmid, could change that. More deployments will contributed to proving the technology’s performance.
UK company RedT recently signed agreements with distributors in central and eastern Europe and south-east Asia.
The partners plan to place RedT’s VRFBs into their existing qualified pipeline of in total, more than 300 units, whilst making an initial commitment for 12 RedT units overall.
The partners will also provide maintenance and after-sales care to customers in their respective regions. These deals with distributors will enable RedT to rapidly expand into these new markets alongside experienced partners.
RedT is also expanding its staff, with two new hires from Gildemeister to build its business development and R&D teams.
China has big plans for VRFB technology. They include Rongke’s construction of a 200MW/800MWh system in Dalian. Pu Neng is also developing large-scale projects.
If these projects are successfully developed, there are plans to construct VRFB factories with capacity to rival Tesla’s lithium ion battery ‘gigafactory’ in the US. Manufacturing at scale will drive down VRFB production costs.
Both RedT and Schmid are also going after the telecoms market to generate sales for their technology.
In September 2017, RedT announced the sale of 14 of its 40kWh VRFBs into sub-Saharan Africa, which have been bought by a client in Botswana. The flow batteries will provide remote power for key telecoms sites across the country.
All sites are in remote locations with no grid connection and will use 11kW solar PV arrays as the sole form of electricity generation. RedT’s units will store a proportion of the solar energy generated during daylight hours for use during the evening.
Time-shifting effectively creates ‘firm’ 24h solar power, which is cheaper per kWh of energy than running a diesel generator off-grid.
The VRFBs have long service life, low maintenance needs and can operate in high temperatures with less impact on performance than lead-acid and lithium ion batteries, both of which have been used before and have experienced critical failure, according to RedT,
German industrial group Schmid has developed a range of VRFB products, targeting residential, commercial and grid-scale markets. The company recently modified its residential company system for the telecoms market and is working with a reseller that supplies telecom batteries into South Africa.
Vanadium down under
In Australia Vsun Energy, the energy storage developer subsidiary of mining firm Australian Vanadium is focusing on different markets including off-grid but also residential.
Residential solar and more recently, commercial solar installations, are rapidly increasing throughout Australia. Around 25% of Australian homes already have a solar system.
Naturally the excellent solar radiation and larger properties are conducive to a large uptake of solar systems. High network costs and low feed in tariffs are opening the way up for storage in both residential and commercial.
Australia has a large proportion of stranded and poorly supported networks due to the size of the distribution networks, creating many niches for storage.
Short duration storage systems up to a few hours are already available, using mainly lithium ion and lead acid batteries. Barring network connection approvals, they will see a large uptake as residences take up the opportunities, predicts Vincent Algar, managing director of Australian Vanadium and Vsun’s founder.
He says: “We have received over a hundred enquiries for residential sized systems and the best candidate system available at present is the Schmid Everflow 5kw-15kw. It seems the landed and installed price point will also be competitive against the total lifetime cost of a similar lithium ion based system. We think we have a competitive residential system for three hours, and longer, baseload storage to join in the globally huge market.”
This will allow more proof-of-concept installations and further verification of the performance of vanadium-based systems as suitable home and small commercial energy storage technology for settings requiring more than three hours of storage, according to Algar.
For larger systems, Vsun is working with other manufacturers to meet the needs of commercial and grid opportunities. In Australia Vsun is also targeting off-grid opportunities including farms and mines.