Yes, currently, li-ion batteries are still number one in the market. However, it seems that there’s a promising new rival on the rise. What kind of batteries have the potential to knock li-ion ones off their top spot? Do they represent a more effective solution? Which alternatives will be more beneficial to people, for the environment, but also for our wallets?
Yes, lithium-ion batteries are still the clear number one in the current market. It looks like they’re not planning to relinquish this spot any time soon. Due to the increased interest in electricity storage systems and units, though, there’s new competition entering the market, one that’s focusing on the use of the RFB (Redox Flow Batteries) concept. Let’s have a look at a couple of questions: Are li-ion batteries still the most effective? What are the alternatives? Which of them can be more beneficial to people, for the environment, and for our wallets?
LI-ION BATTERIES ARE STILL MAINTAINING THEIR STATUS. THE QUESTION IS… FOR HOW MUCH LONGER?
I’ll start by noting that the competition is completely understandable! There’s definitely space for alternative electricity storage options, due to the li-ion batteries’ technical specifications — such as the number of their available operating cycles, limitations connected to so-called deep discharging, the impact that material extraction and disposal of these batteries has on the planet, or their safety. And that’s where the alternative comes in, in the form of flow batteries. In time, these can overtake li-ion batteries, through a combination of better performance, security, durability, and number of operating cycles — as well as having the potential of lower long-term ownership expenses, lower rate of degradation, and a lower environmental burden. We also shouldn’t forget about another huge advantage — the flow batteries’ ability to increase their capacity independently from the battery’s performance, and vice versa. What does this mean in practice? While the flow battery’s power is generated through an electrochemical stack, the storage capacity is set by the volume of tanks with positively and negatively charged electrolyte. That’s why, in a flow battery, it’s possible to simply increase its capacity at the installation point, by increasing the volume of the tanks. Let’s also remember that RFB batteries are not affected by the number of charging cycles, the depth of discharge, or rapid changes in energy flow when transitioning from charging to discharging. A clear winner?
GREEN ELECTROLYTE — A PROMISING PATH FORWARD IN EUROPE’S ENERGY INDEPENDENCE
Electrolytes in flow batteries are usually based on a water solution with an added element, one that binds free ions to itself. Currently, vanadium is used most commonly, but there are other alternatives, such as bromide, zinc, or a combination of iron and chlorine. In addition, other options are still being tested. However, these elements, with the exception of iron and chlorine, also have their disadvantages. What exactly do I mean? I see potential problems in the supply chain, and the elements’ acquisition, through extraction, would still have a negative impact on the environment. How can this issue be solved? The answer is straightforward — let’s invent GREEN ELECTROLYTE. In the concept of European energy independence, this option would represent a very promising way of obtaining an eco-friendly energy storage system, without the reliance on heavy metals. How can we do this? For one, we could use the by-product of cellulose production, which can be obtained from wood chip waste, available in thousands of tonnes in the wood processing industry. Once we verify its chemical stability, it could become an excellent and ecological alternative to add to the portfolio of functioning electrolytes.
We’re engaging with this area at InoBat, too. Under the IPCEI project (Important Projects of Common European Interest), our goal is to optimise flow battery solutions, so that the end product is non-flammable, non-explosive, non-toxic, with favourable TCO (total cost of ownership) figures, without negative externalities on input/output, and with electrolyte that has unlimited durability. Thus, the operational and technical parameters of stationary energy storage should go beyond the solution frameworks that we’re utilising today.
HOW TO REDUCE CUSTOMER ELECTRICITY COSTS? LET’S SUM IT UP
Battery storage systems are, in terms of electricity production and distribution, extremely important, and we should pay more attention to them. Through them, for example, we can increase the share of renewable resources in the overall energy mix, where energy could be stored at times of lower consumption, and used at times when it exceeds average values. We also shouldn’t forget to ensure the energy supply to the portable system. Here, we have the opportunity to reduce the need for support services related to the installation of renewable energy sources. Believe me, this kind of application brings a whole lot of advantages! For example, a reduction in costs related to securing a stable electricity supply for the end customer. A nice example would be the Východoslovenská distribučná spoločnosť in Spišská Magura — a company that has used our batteries to help balance its network load and to ensure a stable supply of electricity.
ARE FLOW BATTERIES AN ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE?
I’d like to address another important topic — environmental protection, from the perspective of sustainability for future generations. In each area, we can do things differently and more sustainably, whereas indifference and inaction will only pave our road to hell. In the battery market, I think flow batteries could be a good solution. They can reverse the negative impact that the extraction of metals (in this case, lithium, vanadium, cobalt and others) has had on the environment. Their recyclability is another advantage. Unlike li-ion batteries, RFB recycling is much easier, as their components are made of recyclable plastic, steel, and aluminium. The electrolyte itself can be pumped through and reused in another battery, which doesn’t burden the environment to the same extent that li-ion battery recycling does. In addition, in the case of vanadium, it’s already possible to reuse the electrolyte in multiple installations.
HOW TO HAVE OUR CAKE, AND EAT IT, TOO?
At InoBat, we’re also looking for the answer to this question. We realise that not all batteries are made equal, and that their individual characteristics differ, depending on relevant technology and the subject of its use. To be specific, I’m talking about the total energy capacity, the speed of the charge/discharge cycles, or the spatial requirements within individual battery types. Let’s look at a practical example. Due to its energy density and weight, the flow battery likely won’t find application in the automotive industry, where it’s necessary to apply solutions with high instantaneous power, fast charging abilities, and optimal weight. For RFBs, their primary use should be in the area of stationary energy storage, where there’s enough space for their installation.
Let’s move on to another important consideration — battery costs. You’ve probably heard that the cost of li-ion batteries is the lowest. That may not necessarily be true. The cost of flow batteries can get even lower. When installing large systems with a capacity of tens of megawatts, the total cost of the installed capacity doesn’t increase linearly. The cost increase is dependent on the number of tanks and the amount of electrolyte needed.To sum it up, when we recalculate the battery’s durability and its frequent charging, a flow battery system will quickly become a simpler alternative — economical in terms of the installations longevity, and also less risky where fire hazards are concerned. Moreover, with flow technology, it’s possible to design almost identical lifespans of the renewable energy source and the battery (of course, it’s still necessary to replace the RFB’s components through its lifespan). A li-ion battery, on the other hand, needs to be completely replaced after approx. 2000 cycles of deep discharging, which automatically increases the flow battery’s attractiveness.
LET’S IMAGINE OUR FUTURE. WHAT COULD IT LOOK LIKE?
I’d like to conclude this blogpost by imagining what the future could look like. Firstly, I’d like to point out that li-ion batteries are currently popular not just with car manufacturers, but that they’re also the subject of research at many universities. The findings of research-development activities, and the increase of battery production in the automotive industry, represent turning points that, in the case of li-ion batteries, extend into other sectors. That’s why, at InoBat Energy, our aim is to raise awareness about alternative solutions and, through continuous research, develop a green stationary energy storage, with an emphasis on carbon neutrality, which will find application in the commercial sphere.
And what’s the final solution? Today, I see it in flow batteries based on vanadium and alternative green electrolytes. This approach can support the solutions provided by li-ion batteries. The use of other electrolytes in flow batteries is also just a matter of time. I’m certain that InoBat Energy will be a loud, influential and valuable player in this market.
Why do I care about this area in the first place? I started my professional career as an investment banker and later went on to work in the field of corporate banking. I’ve always wanted to move on from risk assessment and the analysis of business opportunities and client business activities — into the field of real business. As a crisis manager, I worked for viticulture and heavy engineering companies. My years of experience in these industries have pushed me to pursue something else — and I decided it was the right time to utilise my experience in a product that would be built on long-term sustainability, with an emphasis on zero environmental impact. That’s why I’m grateful to be a part of InoBat Energy. Together, we’re working on developing a product just like that. I believe that, with Patrik Kurill and the rest of the team, we’ll be able to launch it in the near future.
Board Member, InoBat Energy