New style battery

spotlight on Vanadium

A big wind turbine or array of solar panels is all very well, but you need to store the power you generate, else its wasted. Battery technology has barely advanced in the last century. The base standard is still lead-acid, but that may be about to change.

Although fuel cells will not take off any time soon because companies have not cracked the safe production of hydrogen, a new Vanadium battery has been launched which might change the economics of renewable energy and off-grid living. VRB Power Systems Inc. (www.vrbpower.com) of Vancouver makes large scale power storage units based on “flow” batteries. The technology involves pumping an electrolyte that contains the metal vanadium through a membrane. This causes a chemical reaction that releases electricity, and the flow can be reversed to store power.

Unlike lead acid batteries, flow batteries don’t wear out and the units are “scalable,” so merely adding more units and fluid tanks means they can store more power for longer periods. A unit the size of a refrigerator can hold enough electricity to power a domestic home. One that fills a football-field size building can store the power from a mid-size wind farm.

The company is still tiny and prices are too high for an individual home, though a community might afford one, but analysts are saying this is the year sales will take off. VRB has sold several small-scale systems, including one to the Canadian Government which is assessing it in the hope of ordering many, but the recent completion of a manufacturing plant in Richmond, B.C., and a key deal in Ireland has got the attention of analysts.

The Irish sales agreement, signed in August, calls for VRB to supply $6.3-million worth of the storage units to the Sorne Hill wind farm near the northern town of Letterkenny. The batteries will store power at night when the wind blows hardest and electricity usage and rates are low. They will deliver power to the grid during the day, when it is needed and the farm can make more money from higher daytime rates.

VRB says a vanadium flow battery is an ideal complement for a diesel generator or a wind turbine in off-grid communities in the North, for example, to help even out peaks and troughs in the electrical load. It has a much lower ecological footprint than lead or Cadmium batteries.

The feasibility of mass production depends on supply of Vanadium, which has a yo-yo price and has slipped recently to around $8 a pound, The ferro-vanadium market is estimated to be around 65,000 tons a year, a fraction of the 1.2 million tons of nickel traded annually and infinitesimal alongside the billion-ton-a-year iron ore market.

Russell Stanley of Clarus Securities Inc. says “We believe VRB Power is on the cusp of fully commercializing its battery technology. The company’s technology “is the ideal energy storage solution for wind power applications,” he added.

Jon Hykawy, an analyst at Research Capital Corp., has projected VRB revenue of $23-million in 2007, and says that is now “feasible” because of contracts in the pipeline. For 2008, Mr. Hykawy projects VRB will generate $115-million in sales, and earnings a share of 11 cents. He has a 12-month target of $1.40 on the stock, a level that would mark a significant jump from the current price of about 50 cents a share. Another analyst, MacMurray Whale of Sprott Securities Inc., is also enthusiastic about sales in Ireland, and suggests the potential market in that country for power storage systems could be as high as $2.7-billion (U.S.).

5 Responses

  1. It definitely was not good back then but, the scene has now changed, and I think readers may be interested in updating the information at hand, six years on. Recently, I have being researching the Web for Renewable Energy Dynamics Technology Limited (REDT, http://www.poweringnow.com) as we feel that the technology is somewhat maligned by previous unsuccessful attempts to deploy viable, consistent VRFB systems.
    What actually happened at Sorne Hill (now owned and operated by Bord Gais energy) was – in 2007, there was a feasibility study published which examined the economics of installing a flow battery. While the economic case for the system was very compelling, the technology was not ready for deployment at that point in time.
    REDT is actually getting to the point of production – the initial 5KW pilot systems are due to be deployed, mainly in Ireland and the UK, in mid-late May, 2012. One system has been under test conditions for the last 3 months and has rarely been off-line, only to up-grade various components to maintain its projected life-span – the electrolyte never needs to be replaced but the component parts of the battery last for c.13,000 cycles before replacement is required, thus the quality of those parts is crucial. This system will be retained indefinitely for ongoing research purposes. REDT also holds the rights to the ESS site at Sorne Hill Windfarm, Co. Donegal where, in time, it is planned to install a utility scale system, subject to funding.

  2. VRB’s vanadium flow battery or VRB-ESS is indeed the breakthrough it’s touted to be.

    An efficient storage technology for mass storage of electrical energy provides the basis for a complete change in the thinking about power generation and use and, at the same time, greatly enhances the commercial viability of renewable sources like wind and solar.

    And while all eyes are rightly focused on the VRB-ESS as the company’s initial stage, there’s still more to VRB. They’ve also aquired the rights to the Regenesys redox battery technology from RWE, the largest utility company in Germany. This RGN-ESS flow battery uses a different chemistry based on bromine and polymeric sulfur.

    As Jon Hykawy, an analyst at Research Capital Corp wrote:

    “VRB-ESS takes the solution into the scale of small power generators and individual users, while RGN-ESS has the potential to turn the power industry upside down. The result would be a world in which hydroelectricity and other Kyoto-friendly technologies…can be allowed to dominate the power generation landscape. If…the impact of greenhouse gases on our weather is correct, such a change may prove to be far more valuable than the simple economics of selling VRB-ESS or RGN-ESS systems…”

  3. Thanks for writing this up! I think its an important technology. And it is really good for the environment. There are no emissions, no disposal issues, no loss of charge, the construction materials are ‘green’ and the battery can be charged and discharged simultaneously. I want one!

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