The opportunity for vanadium redox flow batteries

Newer forms of energy supply require greater amounts of storage capacity.

Warren Dick | 20 January 2016 00:54

Renewable Energy

On Monday January 18, Bushveld Minerals announced the establishment of Bushveld Energy Limited, an 84% owned subsidiary tasked with promoting the role of vanadium in the global energy storage market.

Read Mineweb Editor Warren Dick’s interview with Bushveld Minerals CEO Fortune Mojapelo here.

The company has appointed Mikhail Nikomarov as CEO designate along with a team that has extensive energy storage experience. The medium term goal is to create a vertically integrated company – from mine to market is a popular way of describing such a strategy – that will result in the vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) market becoming a captive market to Bushveld Mineral’s 300 million tonne Mokopane Vanadium Project.

“The mining is the easiest part of the whole process,” says Bushveld Minerals CEO Fortune Mojapelo. The parent company is currently advancing the Mokopane project to pre-feasibility stage and also plans to retrofit some of the county’s existing plants to reduce the need to finance and build new processing operations. This should allow the company to produce a vanadium electrolyte that will be consumed by large battery manufacturers. (Vanadium’s traditional use has been as an ingredient in steel where its high strength-to-weight ratio lends itself to strengthening load bearing alloys).

So how do the batteries work? VRFB’s fundamental difference in relation to solid state batteries like lithium-ion and lead-acid is that it uses a liquid electrolyte to store energy, making for a simpler battery with fewer inputs and no toxic elements.

The electrolytes are stored in separate storage tanks within the battery, and the battery is charged and discharged by a reversible reduction-oxidation reaction between the two liquid vanadium electrolytes of the battery.

For more information on how the batteries operate visit:http://www.bushveldenergy.com/technology/how-it-works.

“Unlike lithium-ion batteries which are used in mobile applications, the VRFB’s lend themselves to large-scale, stationary applications,” says Mojapelo. The batteries can have lifespans as long as twenty years, with the ability to charge and discharge as much as 20 000 times without performance degradation. Of particular interest in a world increasingly using renewable energy whose output is variable, the VRFB’s are scalable to the Megawatt range.

Global energy storage through the supply of vanadium to large global battery manufacturers is the opportunity that Bushveld Energy hopes to unlock. Citing research by Citigroup and the Boston Consulting Group, the company says the market for energy storage by 2030 will range from $300 to $400 billion.

But for the technology to become more widely adopted, it needs to move down the cost curve, as lithium-ion is doing, and like photovoltaic energy has done over the last ten years. Another source of demand for a mineral South Africa enjoys in abundance would be a welcome ally in the current resource market environment.