DER-Grid Edge, Electric Vehicles, Energy Storage

Energy Cast Podcast: The value of vanadium

Flow Battery EV
My guest believes lithium ion batteries are better for energy-dense applications like electric vehicles, although some companies out there are trying to use flow batteries for EVs.

Energy Cast is a podcast featuring some of the top experts across all links in the energy industry chain, including electric vehicles, renewables, generation and more! Jay Dauenhauer created the show and has been hosting Energy Cast for several years.

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I first became aware of flow batteries during my discussion with the Energy Storage Association in Episode 49.  Unlike lithium ion batteries which get their electrical charge from a solid, like lithium, flow batteries carry a charge between two electrolytes filled with dissolved solids.  The result is a less energy-dense battery, but one that endure nearly indefinite cycles.

“The vanadium that was around for millions of years doesn’t transform,” says my guest, Invinity Energy Systems CEO Larry Zulch.  Larry formerly ran Avalon Battery, which merged with Invinity in April 2020.

Invinity’s design is the vanadium flow battery, which leverages electrolytes of vanadium in different oxidation states to shed electrons and produce energy.  Larry says vanadium batteries have been around for decades, but believes Invinity’s new venture has produced the world’s first commercial-grade unit.

“It’s really easy to put together a vanadium flow battery,” he says. “But to get it to work well, and reliably over long periods of time, that is a different proposition.”

These batteries’ ability to cycle indefinitely with no degradation is their biggest selling point.  Solar farms and other renewable energy producers are ideal clients.

“The place where we’re seeing a lot in interest in our flow batteries are times when there are 2-4 cycles a day,” he says.  “Cycles is a big advantage that we have over the alternative because there’s no limit to how many cycles you can do.”

The drawback, Larry says, is that flow batteries like his are less energy dense than lithium ion batteries.  When I asked him about the potential of flow batteries for electric vehicles, he believes lithium ion batteries are superior.

Larry says their vanadium electrolyte is so resilient, they actually rent the electrolyte to clients.  In one case, they transferred 10-year-old electrolyte to a new facility.

He adds that vanadium is also plentiful, more abundant in the earth’s crust as copper.  And while the element has been used for tool hardening, Larry believes the market can expand.

“Once we start creating a true alternate market for vanadium, we see that there will be an increased production of it,” he says.  “We’ve been told there’s as much vanadium as we can use.” (This podcast originally aired in July 2020).

Dauenhauer is a member of the DISTRIBUTECH International advisory committees. Clarion Energy is the parent company of DISTRIBUTECH. Join us in October for the virtual DISTRIBUTECH + series! The first set of sessions began this month and will continue through December. Read more information below!

Energy Cast Podcast is hosted biweekly by Jay Dauenhauer.

Learn more about the podcast here.

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