Vanadium batteries are as Aussie as the Hills Hoist, Tim Tams and wifi, however, they don’t have the same recognition…yet.
Since Maria Skyllas-Kazacos and her team at the University of New South Wales came up with the concept of the vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) in 1983, progress has been somewhat slow. Given the rapid take up of renewable energy over the past decade, this is a bit surprising.
One of the main arguments against renewables is what to do when the sun isn’t shining or the wind doesn’t blow. This is where stationary battery storage comes into its own.
Whilst lithium-ion batteries were the early leader in the field, mainly on the back of Elon Musk driven publicity installations, VRFBs are quickly making up the gap.
Vanadium redox flow batteries have a relatively simple make up and process, effectively just using one input, vanadium electrolyte, that is pumped from tank to tank.
VRFB systems, like any flow battery, use tanks to store an electrolyte — in this case vanadium, which stores the energy and is circulated through a cell stack to recharge or produce electricity. The architecture of a flow battery enables the energy storage capacity of the battery to be expanded by adding additional tanks and vanadium liquid.
VRFB systems can also fully discharge, and charge, without damaging the battery and have negligible capacity degradation over time. There are also no temperature constraints and no fire risk. Even better, with a minimum projected life of 20 years, the vanadium electrolyte can be recycled and reused at the end of the battery life.
The only obvious negative associated with VRFBs is the space required. Compared to a Tesla Powerwall or lithium-ion battery farm, VRFBs take up a lot more room. Most of the development projects involve sea container scale storage tanks, not something retail consumers are going to have next to their carport….
However, for more remote locations, VRFBs offer an excellent complementary technology to renewable energy sources. Mine sites, country towns or any situation where space isn’t an issue could potentially make sense for VRFBs.
In South Australia, Yadlamalka Energy has just commissioned an 8MWh VRFB, whilst in China, the vanadium-powered Dalian Flow Battery Energy Storage Peak-shaving Power Station has a maximum capacity of 2000Mw/800MWh.
The Victorian Government has a Neighbourhood Battery Initiative (NBI) that is looking to deploy VRFBs into communities under a shared charge and discharge model.
The Queensland Government has gone one step further, with the Government investing $1 billion of coal royalties into upgrading the electricity grid under the CopperString 2032 project. As part of the project, the Queensland Resources Common User Facility will be built at the Cleveland Park Industrial Park in Townsville, offering resources companies the opportunity to process vanadium into vanadium electrolytes.
With a significant mineral resource base in the Richmond and Julia Creek regions, the Queensland Government is keen to see vanadium mined, processed and turned into electricity storage in Queensland.
Western Australia, despite having some of the most advanced vanadium projects in Australia, hasn’t seen the same level of Government investment, yet. With over a third of the world’s lithium coming out of WA, its fair to say that this has been the focus to date. Nonetheless, the two leading project developers are pressing forward, establishing VRFB divisions of their own to increase the margins from these projects.
With net zero commitments from nearly all of the Australian Governments and major mining houses, expect to see VRFBs become as a common feature of new renewable energy projects in Australia over the coming decade.
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