A flow battery ‘competitive with the LG Chems and Samsungs of this world’

By Andy Colthorpe for Energy Storage News

The following is an excerpt from the posted Q&A article.  Read the full story here

Seeking to create a “global player” in the emerging flow battery industry, Avalon Battery and redT have been in talks about forming a combined company.

Alex Au, NEXTracker: There’s a really powerful trend coming from the market saying: we’re looking for a four-hour firm power plant. That’s kind of like that ‘baseload’ conversation.

PV is very straightforward: I’m going to produce electrons when the sun is shining and make money.

Then when you go and add a battery component to it, if you don’t care how often you cycle it or beat up the battery, you’re going to deliver additional power to the grid at times when it’s most valuable or when there’s frequency events, those types of things. To be able to use this application in an aggressive manner – now you can not only make money when the sun shines but also make money based on what the market requires.

That has really unlocked a lot of opportunities.

The flow battery is an actual product that can really just get beat up and handle those cycles. If I come to you and say, “hey, I just ran this test, I’ve had a really aggressive 0-100% to 50% to 0 to 25% to 0 and so on and I cannot show any degradation on the electrolyte and it’s been 20 years,” I’d have just told you that I have a battery that has a better degradation profile than a solar panel.

AA: It’s taking the discussion away from the procurement guys and putting it back in the hands of the developer. The developer does not look at [cut sheets] the developer looks at their spreadsheets.

When a spreadsheet says, here’s a very low upfront cost for this lithium-ion battery. Then there’s another line item of the cost for augmentation, replacement and management of those lithium cells as they degrade over time. Not only does it degrade over time but the efficiency changes.

Just as module mismatch, when you have mismatch on a string, your pipe gets smaller and your function is off that weakest module. The same thing happens with a bank of lithium-ion batteries. The older cells need to be managed differently than the augmented cells and the replaced battery cells so that line item when you look at it from a developer and not knowing what lithium prices are in the future, not knowing the format, not knowing the voltage range creates a tremendous amount of risk.

You then need to do a capacity maintenance plan for that.

Now, you go to a developer and say I have this asset – and this asset, it doesn’t change, you don’t have to worry about the augmentation. All those lines of risk are removed from that spreadsheet and it’s a lot easier to focus on what the product actually does.

SM: It is good [as a sign of interest in the market]. Support from the big companies in lithium and saying hang on, we need flow as well. It supports a debate you and I often have that flow is completely different technology, it’s opposite to lithium.

Lithium is a very cheap power technology which is good for certain applications but the future of energy storage will be heavy cycling energy storage. So, heavy-duty, infrastructure energy storage which is what flow is.

That market hasn’t come online yet because of the business models and the technology availability, so as flow gets out and proves itself as a solution, you can open up many more energy storage applications that require much harder working assets that lithium can’t do.

I actually say lithium and flow are complementary technologies, doing different things.

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