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The US Army is testing a new flow battery that can suck up wind and solar energy like a high tech vacuum (photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin).


US Army Tests A New Flow Battery From Lockheed Martin

The US Army is testing a new flow battery that can suck up wind and solar energy like a high tech vacuum.

Apparently the US Army did not get the memo about woke capitalism and ESG investing. It has a strategy to cut fossil fuels, and one step towards that goal is a new flow battery from Lockheed Martin, to be tested at Fort Carson in Colorado. If all goes according to plan, the new battery will be installed at Department of Defense facilities throughout the US and overseas, opening the door for more wind and solar.

Flow Batteries Are Growing Up & Taking Over

Flow battery technology is very different from conventional lithium-ion batteries. Flow batteries deploy the ability of two specialized liquids to generate electricity when they flow adjacent to each other. The setup mainly consists of tanks and pumps, which can be easily scaled to fit various applications. Fire hazards are practically zero, and the battery solutions can consist of nontoxic and abundant substances.

Typically — but not necessarily — the solutions are separated by a thin membrane when in motion.

Basic flow battery technology is not a new thing, but previous iterations were impractical for widespread usage. That’s not for lack of trying. The US Department of Energy has been nursing the domestic flow battery industry along since the 1980s. A lack of adequate R&D funding in the earlier years stalled notable progress towards commercialization. The picture changed after former President Obama took office in 2009 with a climate action agenda. The falling cost of wind and solar power began to propel the demand for low cost, long duration energy storage solutions.

Flow Batteries Hit Their Stride

Recent technology improvements have widened the span of applications for flow batteries. Back in 2013, for example, the Energy Department funded a GE project aimed at engineering a flow battery small enough to power an electric car, and at least one EV startup is now offering a flow battery car for sale. A research team at Case Western University is also developing a scaled-down flow battery for use in zero emission, all-electric homes, and the startup Influit Energy is working on an airborne flow battery for electric aircraft.

More flow battery activity is taking place in the stationary energy storage area. In addition to smoothing over gaps in the availability of wind and solar energy, stationary flow batteries could be used in tandem with other clean technologies. In Scotland, for example, researchers are demonstrating a tidal energy and green hydrogen system integrated with a flow battery.

Here in the US, stationary flow batteries fit the Department of Energy’s search for long duration energy storage technology that outlasts conventional lithium-ion battery packs and costs less, too.

The Energy Department is focusing on energy storage systems that last at least 10 hours, into days, weeks, months, and whole seasons.

The Long Duration Energy Storage Difference

Lockheed Martin defines long duration as a discharge of more than six hours. As a long duration stakeholder, the company points out that lithium-ion energy storage is generally confined to about four hours of duration, after which cost-effectiveness breaks down.

The extra hours of duration provide for additional services as the grid absorbs more intermittent wind and solar energy.

“Growing market applications such as transmission and distribution deferral and renewables shifting require long- duration energy storage,” Lockheed explains. “In general, requirements for energy storage on the grid are becoming more challenging – requiring batteries with not only longer duration, but higher flexibility.”

“Currently the dominant technology in the energy storage industry, lithium-ion has proven to have significant durability, flexibility, and cost limitations for long-duration storage,” they add.

The operational advantages of flow batteries also come into play. In contrast to lithium-ion batteries, flow batteries can be idled for long periods without losing their charge, and called into action quickly when needed.

US Army Did Not Get The Woke Capitalism Memo

The Republican party has been doing a lot of sword-rattling over “woke capitalism,” aka the corporate ESG (environmental, social, governance) movement. Anti-ESG policymakers purport to have the best interests of shareholders at heart, but in practice they are simply supporting fossil energy stakeholders at the expense of renewables.

The effort to stymie ESG investing puts the party of Support our Troops! out of step with the troops. The US Department of Defense has been on a renewable energy tear ever since it officially recognized climate change as a significant threat to national security during the Obama administration, and they stepped things up after President Biden took office.

The Army introduced its first net zero plan back in 2010. Last February, it followed up with its first Climate Strategy, aimed at reducing fossil energy use.

“Producing a fleet of field purpose-built, hybrid-drive tactical vehicles by 2035 and providing 100% carbon pollution-free electricity at Army installations by 2030 are among the goals outlined by the Army’s first Climate Strategy as the service adapts to the effects of changing weather,” the Army explained.

“The Army’s innovation plans also include installing a microgrid, or self-sufficient energy system on every installation by 2035, as well as self-power generation at each Army post,” they added.

Long Duration Energy Storage For The Whole DOD

Fort Carson has been a net zero showcase for the Army since 2011, and the new Lockheed “Gridstar” flow battery fits neatly into the decarbonization picture. It will undergo a two-year test in a project that partners the Army and Lockheed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Colorado Springs Utilities.

“The large redox flow battery, otherwise known as GridStar Flow by the Lockheed Designers, is a one-megawatt battery that, once operational, is expected to provide long-duration, clean energy storage and mission critical power,” the Army explained. “It’s estimated the power delivered by the battery will be the equivalent of the electricity consumption of 400 Fort Carson homes for an average day.”

In addition to helping Fort Carson maintain operations during grid-wide power outages, the Army anticipates that the new flow battery will help prevent grid outages by easing demand during peak periods.

The project broke ground last November. If all goes according to plan, the operational lessons learned at Fort Carson will be applied to flow battery installations at all Department of Defense installations, according to the Army.

Doing the math, that’s about 500 installations including overseas facilities, according to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment.

As for “woke capitalism,” Lockheed is not shy about expressing the bottom line benefits of attending to the social leg of the ESG stool.

“By building an inclusive work environment, we help ensure that Lockheed Martin is able to attract, develop and retain a diverse workforce that has the opportunity to showcase and develop their skills and abilities,” Lockheed explains.

“We believe that all employees should have a safe and inclusive work environment — one in which everyone is treated fairly, with the highest standards of professionalism, ethical conduct and full compliance with the law,” they emphasize.

Lockheed and other leading US corporations may have some ‘splaining to do if the Republican-led US House of Representatives follows through on their promise to hold hearings on woke capitalism this year, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Trainwreck Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Find me on LinkedIn: @TinaMCasey or Mastodon: @Casey or Post:  @tinamcasey

Image: Flow battery for long duration energy storage (screenshot courtesy of US Army via YouTube).

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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