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Picture of Largo Clean Energy production-intent VRFB System installed in the field at a National Grid solar farm in Shirley, MA. Image credit: DOE


DOE Invests Nearly $27 Million In Energy Storage Projects

Energy storage has been the proposed solution to the renewable energy intermittency problem (or opportunity, depending on your perspective). Increasingly, it has become a very real practical solution. (Pumped hydro has been used for large-scale storage in Europe for many years.) For smaller scale storage, the Tesla Powerwall and other residential battery systems have been available for several years, at least, and are affordable to many homeowners, but not all. Much larger utility-scale and commercial battery systems are becoming more available as well. Then there are flow batteries, which are intriguing because of how safe, stable, and long-lasting they are. While none of this information is new to those who closely follow energy storage and renewable energy, energy storage technology is still in an emerging/developing state. 

For this reason, the US Department of Energy (DOE) continues to invest in the technology. There are a number of reasons for this financial support. Solar and wind power in the US are still relatively small players in that national electricity production mix, though they are growing. The US will need much more energy storage capacity to complement renewable energy growth. Manufacturing more energy storage products also creates domestic  jobs, which is quite obviously good for the US economy. Tech jobs are skilled employment that pays better than say service jobs, and tech jobs tend to have the benefits that employees need but don’t always receive.

The DOE recently funded some additional energy storage technology projects. Changwon Suh, technology manager and project lead for the Flow Battery Systems Manufacturing project with the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, generously answered some questions for CleanTechnica about them.

Why invest in longer duration flow battery technology? 

Investments by the Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) in flow battery technologies for long duration energy storage are guided by two related department-wide initiatives. The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Storage Grand Challenge (ESGC) aims to accelerate the development, commercialization, and utilization of next-generation energy storage technologies and sustain American global leadership in energy storage. 

Accelerating innovation across a range of storage technologies is captured in the department-wide ESGC roadmap. As part of the roadmapping process, the energy storage community informed DOE there are technical and manufacturing challenges regarding scale-up and performance that still prevent them from achieving cost targets and commercial viability, including: 1) Inefficient and expensive manufacturing technologies; 2) Lack of robust, standardized supply chains (limited suppliers) and system integration challenges; and 3) Challenges with manufacturing scale-up. 

DOE’s investment in flow battery technologies aligns with the Biden Administration’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To support the goal, DOE launched the Long Duration Storage Energy Earthshot. This initiative establishes a target to reduce the cost of grid-scale energy storage by 90% for systems that deliver 10+ hours of duration within a decade and advancing flow battery technologies supports meeting the target. 

With a resonating community voice of the energy storage community and the Administration’s goal for decarbonization,  AMO developed the Flow Battery Systems Manufacturing Funding Opportunity, focusing specifically on developing efficient, scalable manufacturing processes and robust supply chains for flow battery system components.

DOE hopes the investment will accelerate the research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) of energy storage technologies needed to bring clean energy sources to the grid and deliver affordable electricity to all Americans, including those living in underserved communities. We also hope projects selected under this funding opportunity will build strong partnerships to advance the manufacturability of domestic flow battery systems.

Are the four research and development projects to scale up American manufacturing of flow battery and long-duration storage located within companies or are they at universities? If they are at companies, what are the company names?

To address challenges and barriers to scaling up components as well as system manufacturing, we believe that the key to success is to enable multi-organizational innovation at multiple levels — the individual component level, the assembled cell (subsystem) level, and the integrated system level. Thus, the four projects will take the holistic approach to enable integrated manufacturing of flow battery systems at multiple scales (i.e., scale up), leading to maximized performance and reduced manufacturing costs that can catalyze the development of robust flow battery supply chains in the U.S. 

All projects will be collaborative RDD&D projects led by private companies with project partners ranging from universities to U.S. National Laboratories: 1) Largo Clean Energy (lead) will work with its partner IRD Fuel Cells, LLC; 2) TreadStone Technologies, Inc (lead) will work with its partners, ESS, Inc., Columbia University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, North Carolina A&T State University, and Hellion Insight LLC; 3) OTORO Energy Inc. (lead) will work with its partners, Raytheon Technologies and University of Colorado, Boulder; 4) Quino Energy, Inc. (lead) will work with its partners, Harvard University, Mid‐Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center, and Electrosynthesis Company, Inc.

Flow battery technology has some clear benefits. Is one of the goals of supporting it to generate manufacturing jobs in the US?

Yes. All four projects will support DOE’s ESGC roadmap, which outlines a Department-wide strategy to accelerate innovation across a range of storage technologies based on three concepts: Innovate Here, Make Here, Deploy Everywhere. Sustaining American global leadership in this critical energy storage space will ensure that as the demand for flow battery energy storage technologies increases, the technology and its components will be made right here at home – by American manufacturers. This is part of DOE’s commitment to revitalizing the U.S. energy and manufacturing sectors and creating millions of high-quality jobs throughout the country. 

Are the four projects supported by the DOE funding for utility-scale flow battery energy storage?

Yes. Flow batteries are well suited for multiple applications, including utility-scale storages, where multiple charge and discharge cycles, as well as quick recharge are required. All four project teams will focus on manufacturing and scale-up challenges, and they will also develop prototypes for mid-size flow battery systems for a specific application. Mid-size prototypes will help de-risk the design and deployment of utility-scale storage; reach an unmet demand for other diverse applications including residential variable energy systems and EV charging stations.

Is another benefit reducing demand charges by providing longer-duration energy storage that can provide power at lower costs during peak usage?

Yes, especially since peak demand charges are expensive. Cost-effective manufacturing innovation for long-duration energy storage will improve grid affordability, resiliency, and flexibility, including lowering power costs during peak usage, by enabling peak shaving to smooth out peak loads. In addition, all four selected projects will address battery service life. A good example is the Quino Energy project, aiming to sustain battery storage capacity for a +20-year system lifetime. In addition, all projects will complete prototype testing and performance validation, including long-term reliability, stability, safety, frequency regulation, and peak shaving at a third-party testing site or a testing facilities at DOE National Laboratories. DOE’s Office of Electricity (OE) will fund final testing and validation of selected projects at the national laboratory facilities.

Does the social equity work help underserved communities by providing energy storage solutions that can provide backup electricity during power outages to ensure that people there have more reliable power?

Advancing our grid-scale energy storage technologies will enable the US to deliver clean, affordable, and reliable electricity to all Americans, including those located in underserved communities. 

One of the selected projects, Largo Clean Energy, anticipates that many of the storage systems to be produced by the project are likely to be in, or near, disadvantaged communities. Another selected project, Quino Energy, will chose an economically, disadvantaged community or region in California 

Furthermore, this Flow Battery Systems Manufacturing funding opportunity implemented Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) factors as parts of its review criteria. This criteria is consistent with White House Executive Order 13985, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government” (Jan. 20, 2021). All four selectees and their partners have incorporated DEI activities into their projects. 

Does the social equity work provide funds to install flow-battery systems onsite within underserved communities?

DOE will work with all awardees to effectively incorporate appropriate tasks and milestones in their project plans for DEI commitments and proposed activities that are consistent with our objectives of the social equity work.

Additionally, DOE recently launched the Energy Storage for Social Equity initiative— a $9 million program designed to help communities better assess storage as a solution for increasing energy resilience while maintaining affordability and combating high energy insecurities. Learn more about the project here.

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