If renewable electricity from solar or wind is part of your sustainable formula, the question of storing captured energy needs to be answered. This is where Brandon and Maggie Williams come to the plate with their Lakewood, CO-based Iron Edison Battery Company, offering a convincing storage solution that’s not environmentally toxic.
CEO Brandon Williams says he and Maggie created their business in order to serve the energy storage needs of building owners, data centers, and off-grid customers who care as much about their environmental impact as backing up their power supply.
“We saw millions of batteries were being scrapped every year, and set about researching how to take steps towards solving this problem,” says Williams. “What we found was the Nickel-Iron battery.”
Nickel-Iron (Ni-Fe) batteries – developed over a century ago by Thomas Edison – are gradually replacing lead-acid batteries at a number of applications, especially for solar PV and renewable energy power systems. Unlike lead-acid batteries, they are highly reliable, featuring a longer service life and pollution-free operation.
“The Nickel-Iron technology is great, because it’s like rediscovering this great invention,” adds Williams. “The fact that Thomas Edison developed this technology makes the history even more exciting.”
Modern Ni-Fe batteries are primarily used for stationary applications and usually last longer than their lead-acid counterparts. Williams says he expects at least 20+ years from his batteries, adding that some batteries over 50 years of age are still working well. He cites a “perfectly reversible polish / tarnish reaction” as a principle reason for top performance. As for pricing and performance comparisons, the Ni-Fe battery is more expensive than a lead-acid battery, yet it delivers three times more discharge, in addition to lasting far longer, says Williams.
“In a lead-acid battery, the solid lead plates dissolve into the liquid electrolyte during discharge,” says Williams. “When we recharge a lead battery, not all of the solid is able to come out of solution and bond back onto the plate – an incomplete reaction.”
As for the lithium-ion battery, it is excellent for electric vehicles and bikes but not quite ready for large stationary storage applications, says Williams, who tracks how li-ion technology is progressing.
For lead-acid batteries worldwide, there is the critical issue of what harm such chemical compositions can cause to the environment. Nickel-Iron batteries don’t use toxic metals such as lead and cadmium. Ni-Fe batteries aren’t environmentally perfect, either, but they are far less toxic. “The real environmental benefits come down to the fact that we don’t replace a Nickel-Iron battery, we only need to refresh the liquid electrolyte every 7-10 years.”
Williams points out that, in developing countries where there are no significant recycling efforts, lead batteries present a major environmental hazard. The number of lead-acid batteries being used in China for electric bikes and cars, for example, is huge – most of which don’t get recycled, and are often simply tossed away, where they can leach toxic contents into water tables.
Welcome to an old technology in a new age.
Photo & graphic credits: Iron Edison