Prudent Energy received permission last month to operate the world’s largest vanadium flow battery. Growing commercial use of VRB systems is expected to cause a surge in demand for the mineral.
The world’s largest vanadium flow battery, developed by Prudent Energy and capable of storing and delivering grid-scale power instantaneously, last month received permission to operate from a utility in California.
The VRB (Vanadium Redox Battery) Energy Storage System, developed by Prudent Energy, will be used by California’s Gills Onions to expand onsite power generation at an agricultural processing facility in the state. The 29-year-old company based in Oxnard, California, needs a large amount of electricity for refrigeration, lighting, and other jobs. The company processes about a million pounds of onions a day.
“This project unleashes the power of energy storage for industrial companies and the grid of the future,” Prudent Energy’s Senior Vice President, Jeff Pierson, said in a statement. “It proves that multi-megawatt-hour VRB systems can be delivered today. We expect dramatic benefits for a company like Gills Onions, to help them manage their operating costs.”
Only vanadium as electrolyte
Prudent said its VRB “is distinct from hybrid flow batteries (such as zinc-bromine or sodium-sulfur, for example) which have one reactive electrode and therefore suffer from the degradation drawbacks of conventional batteries. Using only Vanadium in the electrolyte – as opposed to a blend of electrochemical elements – gives Prudent Energy’s advanced battery systems the most competitive advantage in terms of operating cost, system life, maintenance, and safety.”
Steve Gill, owner/partner of Gills Onions said Prudent’s battery “is clean, quiet and safe, making it an attractive, sustainable solution for onsite power generators like us. We are impressed with the innovative technology behind Prudent’s Vanadium flow battery, and are excited to be the first company in the United States to deploy a VRB system on this scale.”
A recent New York Times blog entry explained that Prudent’s battery “can absorb or give back another 600 kilowatts for as long as six hours. Fully charged, it holds enough energy to run a large suburban house for about four months. In California, with time-of-use rates, the electricity can be bought at night for less than half what it costs during the day. It is not pure savings because the battery loses 10 to 30 percent of the energy in the round trip from the grid to the battery and back out again on its way to the electricity-using device.”
Cheaper nighttime electricity prices
The blog added, “[b]ut in addition to letting the company pay nighttime prices for electricity used in the daytime, the battery provides a kind of insurance: it can step in instantaneously if one of the fuel cells unexpectedly shuts down….That prevents a spike in Gills’s demand from the grid and thus eliminates higher demand charges.”
Neither Gills nor Prudent has disclosed the price of the battery. Prudent owns the battery currently and Gills has the option to buy it at a later date.
While demand for vanadium is expected to be strong owing its use as a strengthener in steel alloys, new applications, such as energy storage systems, are where the real potential lies for a surge in growth. And there is no concrete data available for vanadium demand if the mineral were to be used in energy storage applications.
“[B]y 2025, vanadium consumption from steelmaking alone is expected to have increased to roughly 123,000 MTV, which is just over double 2010′s global projected demand levels,” American Vanadium Corp. (TSXV:AVC,OTCQX:AVCVF) says on its website.
According to the US Geological Survey, global vanadium production was around 60,000 metric tons in 2011, led by 23,000 tons from China, 20,000 from South Africa, and 15,000 tons from Russia.
Securities Disclosure: I, Karan Kumar, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.