The development of clean energy this week in the San Diego area is not so interesting. The workers will deliver four white transport containers, which house the battery storage systems. Shortly afterwards, workers connect the containers so they can store electricity from a nearby solar panel.
The part that worries me is the “flow battery” technology inside these containers, developed by ESS Tech Inc., a startup from Oregon. Flowing batteries can be an important part of the energy transition because they can provide an energy storage that lasts much longer than the typical four-hour dominant technology, lithium-ion batteries.
So what is a flow battery? A key element of the design is the use of two external tanks containing liquids with electrolyte, which are pumped through the battery during charging and discharging.
The length of the battery, which is how long it can run before recharging, increases depending on the size of the tanks. Think of it as the battery equivalent of one of those new baseball helmets that contain two cans of soda. If you replace soda cans with two-liter bottles, you can drink much more.
“For the whole machine, you need to add more liquid, not add a lot, a lot of batteries,” said Jun Liu, a professor at the University of Washington and a staff member at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He is also the director of the federal government Battery500 Consortiumdeveloping new generation batteries for electric vehicles.
Unlike instantaneous batteries, lithium-ion batteries and most other batteries are self-contained, with less flexibility in their design, he said.
Lithium-ion batteries are also very flammable. Leading types of instantaneous batteries, such as rechargeable vanadium redox batteries, have a much lower risk of fire. (Vanadium is a metal that does not ignite easily, especially if it is dissolved in a liquid because it is in a flowing battery.)
And one of ESS’s selling points for investors and clients is that it is completely independent of rare metals such as lithium or vanadium. The main ingredients of its liquid are iron, salt and water.
The San Diego project, developed in partnership with San Diego Gas & Electric, is the largest demonstration of ESS technology to date.
The system will be able to discharge 3 megawatt-hours before recharging, which is enough to meet the needs of about 100 homes in one day. It includes six containers that hold the batteries, the last four of which are scheduled to arrive this week. Each container has a stack of batteries, with electrolyte sides for each battery.
ESS is also working on demonstration project with Portland General Electric utility in Oregon, which is due to appear online later this year. It will debut a larger and less portable version of the ESS battery called the Energy Center.
Instantaneous batteries can be a variety of sizes, from small as a compact refrigerator, to large as a stack of transport containers. In addition to ESS, players in this space include Sumitomo Electric from Japan, VRB Energy from Canada and others, a mix of startups and well-known businesses.
Companies are betting that their technology can meet the need to store energy that lasts 8 to 12 hours without charging. The basic idea is that networks will need a combination of different storage technologies with different durations to fill the gaps left when wind, sun and other resources are insufficient to meet customer needs.
That’s a pretty good bet, according to Adarsha Naharadjan, head of the energy system research team at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.
“Flowing batteries are here to stay,” he said.
But he carefully points out what instantaneous batteries are: they are not a replacement for lithium-ion batteries. Instead, instantaneous batteries will serve a part of the market that is almost non-existent today for energy storage, which can last eight hours or more, while lithium-ion batteries will continue to be leaders in shorter storage, electric vehicles and consumer electronics. While lithium-ion batteries can be used for eight hours or more, they are better suited for shorter runs of one to four hours.
One of the biggest obstacles to quickly deploying flowing batteries is cost. A Report for 2020 from the Pacific Northwest lab estimated an estimated cost of $ 551 per kilowatt-hour for a 4-megawatt-hour system. The developer can build a lithium-ion storage system with a lower cost, although there are a number of factors that complicate this comparison, including longer flow battery life.
ESS does not disclose the cost of the project in the San Diego area. The company said it aims to reduce the cost to $ 200 per kilowatt-hour by 2025 because Bloomberg reported last year.
Current costs are reasonable enough that utilities and other buyers are taking a step forward to fund larger flow-through batteries than before. Among them, Central Coast Community Energy in California announced in November that he is building three projects of instantaneous batteries, which are planned to be introduced to the Internet in 2026, with no costs disclosed. Projects with a total capacity of 226 megawatt-hours will be implemented in partnership with Concentric Power Inc. from Salinas, California, developer and builder of microgrids. The design will be a vanadium redox battery.
ESS, or Energy Storage Systems, was founded in 2011 by Craig Evans and Julia Song, who are married. They used to work together in a fuel cell manufacturer, where Evans was a product designer and Song was a chemist.
ESS has been working on its technology for years with financial assistance from investors and the government. In 2021, the company made an initial public offering and hired CEO Eric Dresselhuis. It has about 220 employees.
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Now the company is approaching the point where its ideas and projects should start turning into big orders from customers.
Last week, ESS reported first-quarter losses of $ 5.7 million, with many expenses included in the ledger and almost no revenue.
In a conference with analysts, Dresselhus said the company’s order pipeline was strong and plans to ship 40 to 50 systems this year. But ESS is also facing delays in receiving spare parts, meaning some projects that were due to take place in 2022 could be carried over to 2023.
Liu of the University of Washington said he is confident that instantaneous batteries will be successful in the market, but he sees the potential for widespread variability in when this can happen. So, 2022 may not be a turning point for instantaneous batteries, but that time is likely to come.
“We need to be patient,” he said.
Other stories about the transition of energy that should be noted this week:
The Department of Energy is launching a program to support long-term energy storage: The Department of Energy has launched a four-year, $ 505 million program to encourage the deployment of energy storage systems that can run for at least 10 hours without charging. The program will use the expertise of agencies and national laboratories to try to reduce the cost of long-term storage and help figure out which storage technologies are best suited for wider application, as. Elizabeth McCarthy reports for Utility Dive. The program is called Long-term energy storage for everyone and everywherewhich this agency, which loves abbreviations, cuts to LD ESEE.
Inside the race for a car battery that charges quickly and does not catch fire: Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen are among the automakers working on the production of solid-state batteries for electric vehicles, a system that can help catapult the electric car market. Solid state batteries use solid electrolyte rather than liquid in most batteries used today. In an electric car, a solid state battery could charge faster and have more power reserve. Another advantage is that solid state batteries will be less flammable. Verchu’s verse from The Washington Post examines the state of the solid-state race and why it is so important. “It’s the technology of the future,” said Eric D. Waxman, director of the Maryland Institute for Energy Innovation. The question is, “How soon will this future be here?”
Michael Bloomberg plans to invest $ 242 million in clean energy in developing countries: Michael Bloomberg announces a new initiative to promote clean energy in 10 developing countries. Bloomberg Philanthropies will spend $ 242 million working with nonprofits and governments in Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam. Maggie Astar reports for The New York Times. The idea will be to help countries move away from fossil fuels and use cleaner and less expensive technologies. “What strategies are right for each country will really be driven by partners in the country who know them best,” said Helen Mountford, president and CEO of ClimateWorks, a nonprofit that works with Bloomberg on the initiative.
Google’s new campus has a different kind of solar roof: The roofs of buildings at Google’s newly opened campus in Mountain View, California don’t look like solar panels, but that’s what they are. The roofs are giant canopies that look like futuristic circus tents covered with silver photovoltaic panels like Adele Peters reports for Fast Company. Solar roofs, along with a geothermal heating and cooling system, will help campus achieve Google’s goal of working fully on renewable energy by the end of the decade. Google Complex was developed by Thomas Heatherwick The United Kingdom in partnership with the Bjarke Ingels Group of Denmark.
Ford continues to reduce stake in EV Startup Rivian: Ford Motor Co. cut its stake in Rivian to less than 10 percent after two major stock sales. Ford is cutting back on its investment after a sharp drop in Rivian’s stock price as the electric startup maker faces challenges in obtaining parts and fulfilling orders like Jordan Grzelewski reports The Detroit News. Despite the problems, Rivian’s debut truck has received strong reviews in the automotive press and is attracting a lot of interest from buyers.
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