By Karan Kumar — Exclusive to Vanadium Investing NewsVanadium redox batteries, which use vanadium ions to store energy and integrate solar and wind power into the electric grid, are at least five years away from commercialization as their cost is still too high.
Research by scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has helped move vanadium redox batteries closer to commercialization. PNNL's research shows that a new electrolyte mix that uses both hydrochloric and sulfuric acid increases energy storage in the battery by nearly 70 percent, allowing the upgraded battery to improve the electric grid's reliability and helping connect more wind turbines and solar panels to the grid. Vincent Sprenkle, chief engineer in energy materials at PNNL, told Vanadium Investing News in an interview that the lifecycle cost of the battery is still too high for it to be commercially viable. Tell us a little bit about what kind of costs are currently associated with vanadium redox batteries. How much do they need to come down? Cost dictates our research. The primary metric is dollars per KW hour per cycle. Right now pump hydro costs $0.01 per KW hour per cycle. For vanadium batteries, it is $0.08 per KW hour per cycle. We think a suitable target for vanadium batteries is less than $0.04 per KW hour per cycle. At this price, these batteries can be relevant and have application. What was the performance problem associated with vanadium redox batteries and how did PNNL's research help change that? Redox batteries have been around for a while, since when NASA developed them in the 1970s. One of the primary issues with vanadium redox batteries is how many times you can charge and recharge them without a significant loss in performance. If you charge and recharge once a day, you're looking at 365 cycles. You cannot have a battery degrade over all those cycles and have a 20-year life. The current vanadium battery technology lacked the ability to do long-term cycling without significant degradation. PNNL's research focused on improving the degradation of the vanadium redox battery's electrolyte solution mix while increasing the energy you can store in the battery. This ultimately lowers the overall cost of the battery system.