2020 was touted by many as the year of the vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB). In spite of the impact of the global pandemic, this prediction is beginning to bear fruit and the year is only halfway through.
The VRFB was invented in the 1980s at the University of New South Wales by Emeritus Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos and her team. It was commercialised overseas and the majority of the installations have been outside Australia.
The most recently completed VRFB installation in Australia is a 150kW/600kWh battery from UniEnergy Technologies. The battery was commissioned in early 2020 in conjunction with a 344kW solar PV system to power and protect Heron Island in Queensland. The standalone microgrid will power the Heron Island Research Station and achieve a renewable energy fraction of more than 85%. For this project, one of the main drivers for selecting a VRFB was the fact that it is non-flammable.
The University of Adelaide is in the final stages of its solar farm project for the Roseworthy campus. The project includes a hybrid VRFB/lithium-ion system, with a total size of 420kW/1200kWh. The project will reduce peak electricity demand and be able to act as a research and teaching resource.
Around the world we have seen the merger of two VRFB manufacturers, Avalon Battery from the US and the UK’s redT Energy, with the new company being called Invinity Energy Systems. Backing from South African vanadium producer Bushveld Minerals provides even greater strength to Invinity and it will be interesting to see new projects come online now that the legalities of the merge have been finalised.
In Saudi Arabia, a 3 GWh capacity VRFB factory is being built by petrochemical company SABIC in conjunction with German VRFB manufacturer SCHMID. The joint venture is targeting utility scale, telecom towers, mining sites, remote cities and off-grid projects.
German VRFB manufacturer CellCube is now offering leasing of its VRFBs’ vanadium electrolyte, which reduces the capex of the battery by about half. The cost then becomes part of the opex and the end of battery life redeployment of the vanadium electrolyte is dealt with by the third party.
Meanwhile in Australia, VSUN Energy has announced two agricultural sales and continues to progress a large pipeline of potential projects. Interest in the VRFB has remained steady through the pandemic, with renewable energy being seen as a key growth market in a ‘post-covidian world’ (to quote one of the speakers from the Smart Energy Council’s Stimulus Summit).
It will be interesting to reflect back in December 2020 to see if the VRFB has continued to make the fantastic progress it has started the year with.
Written by: Sam McGahan, VSUN Energy