Robert F. Kennedy Jr., at Holy Name, marks unveiling of new battery system

ByAlex Polinsky
October 5, 2017


Above, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of slain U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, speaks to reporters at Holy Name/Alex Polinsky photos

In 2004, four WPI students responded to a flyer calling them to a science project at Holy Name High School. Hans Jensen, Brian Foley, Adam Foley, and Tyler Forbes were the students that constructed an anemometer on the roof of Holy Name, a device to test the viability of placing a wind turbine at Holy Name. They had no idea their efforts would result in a multi-million-dollar wind turbine and state of-the-art battery system being installed 13 years later.

The battery system was deemed operational Thursday.

The battery is important because it can store the wind turbine’s energy, so on days without wind the power grid still operates. It is a “vanadium-redox” battery, as opposed to a traditional lithium-ion battery, which is significant for a number of reasons. The vanadium-redox (redox is a portmanteau of reduction and oxidation) battery is much safer than its lithium-ion counterpart. The battery’s power production and storage are in two separate compartments, which means if the battery became overheated it would not explode. Instead, it would overflow into the surrounding compartment, which is ready to handle such an overflow.

The battery uses water-based electrolytes, so it is not flammable. Lithium-ion batteries also have a shorter shelf life. Traditional batteries used for wind turbine energy storage operate for approximately five to 10 years, whereas the vanadium-redox battery operates 10-20 years. The battery can also run for six hours and power 500 homes. The battery will provide more power to Worcester, as well as giving a positive environmental impact.

Wednesday’s event features a ribbon-cutting marked highlighted by an appearance by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmentalist and son of slain former U.S. Sen. Bobby Kennedy, who is a board member of Vionx. Representatives of National Grid, who partnered on the project, were also on hand.

“We’re not protecting the environment for the sake of the fishes and the birds,” Kennedy said, “but for our sake.”

“When I was your age, the age of these students,” Kennedy said, “this country owned half the wealth on the face of the earth, and our addiction to oil changed that”.

In a brief interview after the ceremony, Kennedy, who has been an outspoken skeptic of vaccines who some have criticized because of his stances, declined to talk about the current political climate.

“I don’t want to take the focus off why we’re here,” he said.