ViZn goes for flow battery growth

Redox flow battery company ViZn Energy Systems has announced a major production deal with Jabil Circuit that could see zinc-iron overtaking vanadium flow batteries.

Redox flow battery company ViZn Energy Systems has announced a major production deal with Jabil Circuit that could see zinc-iron overtaking vanadium flow batteries.

By Jason Deign

Redox flow battery manufacturer ViZn Energy Systems yesterday announced a deal with Jabil Circuit that could see production increasing to 80MW per year in 2016.

The manufacturing partnership should enable ViZn to fulfil in excess of 21MWh of “planned installations in hand,” Ron Van Dell, president and CEO, told Energy Storage Report.

ViZn currently has little more than 1MWh of installed systems in North America and Europe.

However, said Van Dell: “Our flow battery is capable of scaling to tens of megawatts, which makes it ideal for large-scale applications.

“As a result, both utility customers as well as commercial and industrial customers are particularly interested in ViZn’s product.”

Delivering up to 30MW of capacity

So far, product manufacturing has been carried out alongside research and development (R&D) at the company’s design centre in Montana, USA.

The tie-up with Jabil, the third-largest contract manufacturer in the world, will allow ViZn to deliver up to 30MW of capacity this year “with no additional logistic challenges,” said Van Dell.

“Jabil has the capability of ramping manufacturing to meet ViZn’s installation requirement. ViZn will shift the manufacturing to Jabil along with all customer commitments.”

Jabil will be responsible for producing ViZn’s Z20 battery storage system, which uses a non-toxic, low-cost zinc and iron chemistry and “offers one of the fastest charge and discharge responses on the market,” according to ViZn.

The company claims: “It is the most cost-effective flow battery system on the market today.”

Engineering and R&D to expand

ViZn’s engineering, reliability and R&D functions, meanwhile, will be expanded at Montana to “support an increase in the development and production of next-generation zinc-iron flow batteries,” Van Dell said.

He confirmed ViZn was seeing growing interest from Texas, Germany and the North Eastern US. In addition, he said: “The energy storage mandate in the state of California has created a vibrant market.

“The short-term requirement for utilities in California to acquire and deploy a large amount of energy storage over the coming years is certainly creating a lot of market potential in that state.”

Another growing market for flow batteries appears to be off-grid in developing nations.

“There is a lot of potential in underdeveloped communities like much of sub-Saharan Africa, which have little or no access to power from the grid,” said Van Dell.

Foregoing traditional infrastructure

“They are likely to forego building traditional grid infrastructure and will, instead, look toward renewables coupled with energy storage.”

ViZn’s expansion comes at a time of rapid energy storage growth overall but could also indicate a growing acceptance of flow battery technology to complement the short-term discharge capabilities of lithium-ion batteries.

In December last year, Boston, USA-based Lux Research predicted the market for flow batteries could be worth USD$190m, equal to 360MWh, by 2020.

“Within the stationary energy storage market, four flow battery chemistries, led by vanadium-based systems, are gaining commercial traction,” said the analyst group.

Vanadium redox flow batteries, such as those produced by GEC, accounted for 75MWh of deployed systems in December, according to Lux, but are also the most expensive variant.

Long-duration storage applications

Even these may be of value to customers looking at medium to long-duration storage applications, involving discharge times of four hours or more. Currently lithium-ion batteries offer a poor return on investment in such situations.

This could change if lithium-ion battery costs fall much lower. But for now even lithium-ion proponents agree that flow batteries are a better option.

“I do think flow batteries, as a concept, would really be a good fit for applications where you are looking for, say, six hours or more of discharge,” said Peter Gibson, sales director at LG Chem Power, a lithium-ion battery developer.

Furthermore, he noted: “I think there is definitely potential in the future for hybrid systems where flow batteries are the longer-term solution and lithium-ion batteries are there for the short-term duration cycles.”

Market opportunities in America

Indeed, Bosch has already launched such a system in Braderup, Germany.

However, added Gibson: “If you look at the market opportunities in North America, there aren’t that many applications where you need a battery that is going to be discharging for periods of more than four hours.”

Lack of business does not seem to be a concern at ViZn, though. “The industry has been looking for a safe alternative to current battery technologies for energy storage applications,” claimed Van Dell.

“ViZn’s chemistry fulfills this need because it is non-toxic and non-harmful. The growth in orders ViZn has been experiencing demonstrates the market’s acceptance of flow battery technology.”

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