Encell’s hardy battery targets emerging markets

By Jason Deign

Encell graphic: cycle life is determined by oxide solubility.

Encell claims to have a battery chemistry that can beat lithium-ion and lead-acid. Image: Encell.

Battery start-up Encell Technology is taking aim on emerging markets with a residential-scale product that bucks the current trend for sleek, eye-catching design.

The company’s Fused Iron batteries are visually unimpressive but able to perform better and withstand a much wider range of operating conditions than lithium-ion (Li-ion) rivals, said Encell chairman and founder Robert Guyton.

“There are fundamental trade-offs in lithium-ion when it comes to cost, cycle life and safety,” he said. “It’s a zero-sum game.”

Evaluating the trade-offs led Encell to select a nickel-iron battery chemistry instead.

Nickel-iron batteries have low specific energy and poor charge retention but are popular in mining because of their long operating life, of up to 20 years with regular cycling, and their ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions.

“It’s never been on fire”

“Nickel-iron does have huge cycle life,” Guyton explained. “It’s been around since Edison invented it 100 years ago and it’s never been on fire.

“For grid-edge storage, any time you can get better energy density it’s a plus, but cycle life is more important. And then rugged [design means] I don’t have to be really sensitive with temperature, because that just adds to the cost.”

Guyton said Encell had overcome the chemistry’s poor discharge characteristics using fused iron electrodes.

On its website, Encell asserts its products can undergo 15,000 cycles with an 80% depth of discharge (DoD) and “no capacity fade for the first 75% of total cycle life.”

The company’s performance claims have been confirmed by Sandia National Laboratories in the US, Guyton said. “We have cells that have been cycling twice a day for over five years and are over 4,000 100% DoD,” he said.

Market-leading LCOE

This is said to result in a market leading levelised cost of energy (LCOE).

“The Encell Fused Iron Battery is estimated to cost up to one-tenth the price per kilowatt hour on a LCOE basis in comparison to a lead-acid battery with similar name plate capacity,” claims the company.

“The LCOE advantage is even more pronounced versus Li-ion batteries.”

Guyton clarified that Encell’s current energy storage products were priced at around USD$500 per kWh of installed capacity, of which about half was the cost of the battery itself.

“If we had the ability to be produced at volume it would be below $100 per kWh,” he said. “We believe we have the lowest cost of ownership because we don’t need it to be kept at 25ªC. We don’t need cell management.”

Production facility in Florida

Encell makes the batteries itself in a 2.1MWh-a-month production facility in Alachua, Florida, formerly owned by Energizer Power Systems and purchased for “cents on the dollar,” according to Guyton.

The batteries are also available in the US through Iron Edison and via online retailer altE. Guyton said Encell was planning to increase production capacity at Alachua to 1.5GWh a year.

So far the company has completed around 100 installations, mostly comprising 10kWh systems, and around half a dozen larger projects for customers such as Lockheed Martin, Google and a New York hospital.

For the latter, the chemistry had to be approved for in-building installations in downtown Manhattan, which is currently off-limits for Li-ion because of New York City Fire Department regulations.

However, the real market for the Encell storage product is less likely to be Manhattan than any number of emerging markets.

Where you want to abuse the battery

“We think it lends itself to rural electrification in places like Africa and India,” Guyton confirmed. “Any place where it’s super hot, remote, where you want to abuse the battery.”

Guyton said Encell has worked on “a couple” of MWh-scale wind farm-connected storage projects in Latin America and a 100kWh solar-plus-PV project for First Solar and Husk Power Systems in India.

There is also an up to 5MWh project underway at an industrial park in Nicaragua, where the owners want to tie existing wind and solar assets to energy storage in order to extend production by four hours a day.

The company, which was founded in 2006 but has been operating so far under the radar that energy storage analysts consulted by Energy Storage Report said they had never heard of it, is expecting rapid growth going forward.

It has a potential sales pipeline of 191MWh this year, 647MWh in 2017 and 1.6GWh in 2018. “I would say maybe half of it is geared towards projects in emerging areas,” Guyton said.

Viking launches solar-and-cold-storage combo

By Jason Deign

Viking Cold Solutions, a US thermal energy storage start-up, is launching what is likely the world’s first solar-plus-cold-storage combination at Hannover Messe, Germany, this week.

Pic: Viking Cold is aiming to tie its phase-change material cold storage with solar.

Viking Cold is aiming to tie its phase-change material cold storage with solar. Photo: Viking Cold.

Energy Storage Report understands the offering is not so much an integrated product as a concept aimed at raising awareness of the efficiency of cold storage over batteries.

Using cold storage with grid power can improve the efficiency of energy use by up to 34%, Viking Cold claimed.

Combined with solar, it could cut ongoing energy costs much further while providing a quicker return on investment (ROI) than batteries, the company said.

“We aim for a three-year payback,” said James Bell, president and CEO. “Our return on investment is based on energy savings. The bigger the facility, the bigger the savings. It can be tens of thousands of dollars a year.”

Better return on larger projects

The ROI could be even better for cold storage installations that qualify for energy efficiency grants or subsidies, he noted. “And since we pair well with renewables it increases the ROI on these as well.”

The launch at the Hanover Fair, the world’s biggest industrial show, should serve as a European calling card for Viking following the company’s early success in the US.

“We’re already in talks with a number of [European] companies,” Bell said.

The company is launching its phase-change material (PCM)-based cold storage to European audiences after gaining a foothold in the US and Puerto Rico, where the company’s founder, Paul Robbins, has commercial interests.

In fact, much of the early growth of the company was due to Robbins’ links to the frozen goods logistics industry.

Focused on the shipping space

Robbins is president of Caribbean Shipping Services, a chilled commodities shipping firm that operates a 7,900m2 temperature-controlled warehouse in Jacksonville, Florida, USA.

“We were originally focused on the shipping space,” said Bell.

Today Viking Cold works with around 20 customers, including V. Suárez and Plaza Provision, two of Puerto Rico’s largest commercial groups, and three major grocery chains in the US.

“Our biggest expansion is in California, where we are working with utilities to install [cold storage] alongside renewables,” Bell said. “Our view is that Europe is also a great fit for our technology.”

The company’s PCM cold storage is essentially “highly engineered salt water,” said Bell.

Precise mixes of salt

Viking Cold uses precise mixes of salt to bring the melting point of ice down to as low as -30ºC, with the exact level determined by the application in question.

Using low-cost or renewable energy to bring the PCM down to freezing can then allow goods to be kept cold with ice for up to 12 hours.

Ultimately this may limit the technology’s ability to provide fully off-grid cooling in many European countries since in the UK, for example, there are only six months a year with more than 12 hours of daylight a day.

On the plus side, however, the PCM can cycle as often as needed and “lasts a minimum of 20 years,” Bell said.

Crowdfunding: a new route to cash?

UK crowdfunding campaign successes for Renovagen, Highview Power Storage and Powervault, as venture capital investment decreases for energy storage start-ups.

UK crowdfunding successes for Renovagen, Highview Power Storage and Powervault, as venture capital investment decreases for energy storage start-ups. Photo: Renovagen

By Jason Deign

A UK campaign this month underscored the value of crowdfunding as new figures showed energy storage venture capital financing on the wane.

Renovagen, an integrated solar-plus-storage technology developer, had raised GBP£1m from 807 investors when its crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube came to an end last week.

The campaign saw the start-up getting 167% of its £600,000 target, with the largest single investment amounting to £100,000.

The money will be used to fund go-to-market costs for Renovagen’s Roll-Array portable solar power system, which consists of flexible, transportable solar farm units with integrated energy storage.

Renovagen claims the technology enables deployment of large solar power capacity more quickly than competing methods.
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Start-up claims first true integrated home storage

Powerstation 247 from Concept by Us, heralded as the first true plug-and-play residential solar energy storage system, includes integrated inverters and CALB USA lithium iron phosphate batteries.

Powerstation 247 from Concept by Us, heralded as the first true plug-and-play residential solar energy storage system, includes integrated inverter and CALB USA lithium iron phosphate batteries. Photo credit: Concept by Us

By Jason Deign

Concept by US, a Florida, USA-based start-up, claims to have launched the world’s first truly plug-and-play system for residential solar energy storage.

Two weeks ago the four-year-old firm unveiled an integrated storage unit called the Powerstation 247, which comes with up to three hybrid inverters, solar maximum power point trackers, a charge controller and lithium-ion batteries.

All the equipment is made by Concept by US except for the batteries, which are lithium iron phosphate products supplied by CALB USA and chosen for their safety properties.

To install the Powerstation, an installer just needs to plug the leads from a customer’s solar panels in one end and attach it to the household distribution board at the other, said Sara Kissing, vice president and chief operating officer.

Most of the two to three-hour installation time is taken up by the battery management system software’s automated setup process, she said.
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Is this the company to beat Tesla?

Capacitor Sciences and its thin film capacitor technology could beat Tesla lithium-ion batteries on performance and cost around $100 per kWh.

Capacitor Sciences and its thin film capacitor technology could beat Tesla lithium-ion batteries on performance and cost around $100 per kWh. Photo credit: Capacitor Sciences

By Jason Deign

California start-up Capacitor Sciences claims to be developing an energy storage medium that could beat lithium-ion batteries on performance while costing around USD$100 per kWh.

The Menlo Park firm is hoping to use nano-structured crystalline thin films as the dielectric material for capacitors with up to 10 times the energy density and 100 times the power density of lithium ion batteries, according to a press release.

Capacitor Sciences says the use of thin film should overcome problems dogging other capacitor manufacturers, such as ill-fated EEStor, which used inorganic dielectric materials too brittle to withstand repeated charging cycles.

“No-one is really working on this class of materials,” said Wolfgang Mack, vice president of business development. “We’re using organic materials. They are waxy in nature. There’s no damage done during charge and discharge.”

Capacitor Sciences’s founder and chief technology officer, Dr Pavel Lazarev, was previously involved with Crysoptix, a liquid crystal display optical films maker, and nanomaterials business Optiva, which went out of business in 2005.
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Sonnen joins crowded Oz market

The residential Australian energy storage market continues to hot up, as Sonnen, Enphase Energy and LG Chem all make announcements. Photo: sonnenBatterie, the Sonnen battery system

The residential Australian energy storage market is hotting up, with announcements from Sonnen, Enphase Energy and LG Chem. Photo: sonnenBatterie, the Sonnen battery system

By Jason Deign

German storage player Sonnen today became the latest major player to join the race for supremacy in Australia’s increasingly crowded residential energy storage market.

The company is looking to attract Australians to its sonnenBatterie product, which is a modular lithium-ion battery system capable of storing between 2kWh and 16kWh per household.

“Our first partner is True Value Solar, Australia’s largest solar company,” confirmed Mathias Bloch, Sonnen spokesman.

The company threw its hat into the Australian ring in the week after LG Chem and Enphase Energy both unveiled news of growing demand for storage products across the country.

LG Chem said it expected to see a five-fold increase in Australian shipments this year, to 3,000 units, and Enphase Energy was reported to be looking to Australia and New Zealand for the bulk of up to USD$20m in sales.

US microinverter maker Enphase expects to ship around 4,000 storage systems this year and said it will start generating revenues across the antipodes by the second half of 2016.
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