ViZn Energy Systems Inc. (ViZn) will supply a 2 MW zinc-iron redox flow battery system to Hecate Energy to provide support to the Ontario grid. (ViZn and Hecate are both located in the United States — ViZn in Austin and Hecate in Nashville.)
What follows is an interview with Ron Van Dell, President and CEO of ViZn Energy Systems about the company’s technology.
What makes your zinc-iron chemistry safe and non-toxic?
The chemical powders we use to mix the electrolyte are food-grade additives which are inherently non-toxic; iron is a common food additive and zinc is used in sunscreen. Unlike acid-based chemistries, ViZn’s alkaline chemistry poses no risk to the health of humans or the environment. Some other flow batteries commonly utilize vanadium or bromine in their chemistries and they are complemented by sulfuric or hydrochloric acid, none of which are chemicals you want in large quantities near schools, hospitals or residential neighborhoods.
Is it non-flammable and non-explosive?
Our chemistry is inherently non-flammable and non-explosive which is an important contrast between our technology and alternative batteries such as lead-acid and standard lithium-ion batteries commonly used for consumer electronics, EV’s and some stationary storage applications. In addition, the alkaline electrolyte is environmentally friendly as well as easy on the materials of construction. The highly
available zinc and iron components are used today for road maintenance, food additives, skin creams and the like.
What will or do utilities use your flow batteries for?
The principle value our storage systems for utilities is both energy capture and fast ramp services such as frequency regulation. Properly designed storage can defer expensive asset costs from increased transmission, generation and distribution, as well as energy capture from renewables generation. ViZn’s flow battery can also be used for frequency regulation, asset deferment, renewable firming and a number of other applications.
Are the batteries containerized, and how much maintenance is typical?
Yes, ViZn’s Z20 flow battery is the basic building block of our systems. It comes in a 20 foot shipping container for C&I and small microgrid applications and stacked 40 foot containers for utility scale storage. Regular maintenance involves a yearly visit to balance the electrolyte, and several remote monitoring functions to assure the uptime and performance guarantees from ViZn.
How many tens of megawatts are your batteries scalable to, and how difficult or easy is it to install larger battery systems?
The system is highly scalable with simple building blocks of 1MW to 1.6MW per string for inverter and grid tie matching components. These strings are multiplied for the required sizing of a project. Sizing and future upgrading is as simple as connecting additional containerized units together to achieve the desired power and energy capacity for any particular application.
Would a battery system with 10 MW of capacity also have 10 MWh of duration, more?
Maximum power for the ViZn flow battery is uniquely available over the entire state of charge. In addition, switching times from full charge to discharge is less the 50 milliseconds allowing for power and frequency applications to be performed. Capacity of the systems is 3 hours in our standard product offering. Our 10 MW flow battery has the capacity of 30 MWh. The system for the Ontario IESO project, for example, is a 2MW battery but is capable of 6MWh of energy consisting of two redundant strings to assist reliability and resiliency.
Are all of your customers utilities, and who are a few?
Currently, we have smaller installations in C&I and microgrid, also grid-connected service renewables smoothing, load shifting as well as grid reliability. Contracted projects include larger utility-scale products as well as specialized microgrid projects.
We have had our flow battery installed and evaluated at Flathead Electric Cooperative in Montana at their Kalispell campus. Our battery is part of a community microgrid project with BlueSky Energy in Austria.
There is also a PV integrated installation at Randolph-Macon College which is a project with Dominion Virginia Power. And the recently announced 2MW / 6MWh project with Hecate Energy will be commissioned with the Ontario IESO in 2016.
Where do you source the zinc and iron, and what is the cost?
The beauty of ViZn’s chemistry is that the components are very abundant, globally, which makes them inexpensive and accessible. Our battery is shipped dry and the chemical powders are usually sourced, locally, wherever they are to be installed. The price varies a little depending on the location from which they are sourced, but the difference is negligible. Generally, we are able to deliver chemistry worldwide at under $70/kWh. An additional benefit is that the chemistry is non-toxic so the ongoing and end of life costs are minimized.
Is your electrolyte all water?
The electrolyte is mainly softened tap water. ViZn adds components for the alkaline zinc-iron end result.
What is the life of your flow batteries?
The estimated life of our flow battery is 20 years.
What is in your company’s future for the next three to five years?
We recently signed a contract with Jabil, a global electronics manufacturing company, to help us ramp up production of our product to meet current and future commitments. We currently have over 20MWh worth of projects planned through 2016 which will be a fraction of our ramping capacity. ViZn’s manufacturing and support structure is set up for the high growth and adoption of the stationary flow battery market we are seeing.
Image Credit: ViZn Energy
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