Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Vanadium Redox Rising Prospects
This is a bit of a puff piece, but the core premise is right. When I first posted on Vanadium redox a couple of years ago, it was still lacking the sort of sponsorship it needed. That is obviously changing and a drive from the mining industry is a good start.
I will not explain the technical aspects as that is covered in earlier posts (google vanadium on this blog). Its real strength is that it cannot be depleted through many cycles and one pumps working fluids between reservoirs. A capacity change is a matter of tankage.
That means that it can be used to effectively strip all the wastage out of our power grid. A simple windmill could store power for days, yet sell it on demand in minutes when convenient.
Vanadium cost will be an issue, but the resource is actually rather common and will be rediscovered as a byproduct by everyone. This report shows us that vanadium rich deposits will soon be on stream.
Vanadium: Energy's Holy Grail
Photograph Courtesy Cellstrom Gmbh
A vanadium redox battery powers a solar charging station for electric vehicles at the Castello Montel Vibiano wine and olive farm near
. Perugia, Italy
Tony Spencer, Financial Post · Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
How do you bottle sunlight?
It's the major hurdle preventing renewable energy's acceptance into the mainstream.
The moment the sun sets or the wind drops, that energy source shuts down for business. You can hardly power a major electrical grid on such uncertainty.
Likewise, any surplus of wind or solar power has nowhere to go -- except to be either wasted or discharged back into the ground.
The truth is renewable energy will never realize its full potential until we develop efficient ways to store and harness the energy it produces. So that when the source is either offline or producing a surplus, we can continue to draw power.
The solution lies in energy storage.
Influential energy industry analyst Nick Hodge concurs: "Energy storage is the Holy Grail of the energy market." In a recent sector report, American investment bankers Piper Jaffray project the blue-sky potential of this emerging clean technology frontier: "We estimate spending of $600-billion plus on energy storage solutions over the next 10 to 12 years."
No wonder energy storage is the new global gold rush.
One battery in particular, the vanadium redox flow battery, already shows enormous potential as an energy storage solution. In fact, it's the only battery technology today capable of powering everything from a single home right up to the storage demands of a power grid.
With the world now increasingly wireless, we depend on batteries like never before to run our netbooks, power our smartphones and soon, our vehicles. Battery technology continues to rapidly progress as consumers, corporations and governments drive the cleantech sector to innovate better solutions.
The race is on to build a better battery.
A little-known metal called vanadium is beginning to play a pivotal role in both battery power and energy storage technology. This is because vanadium makes highly powerful and efficient batteries -- both in a stand-alone capacity for large-scale power grid usage and as an additive in small-scale battery applications.
So, what is vanadium? Why is it so special? And why have you likely never heard of it?
Vanadium is a strategic metal that is essential for engineering as well as for the automotive, shipping, and construction industries. It is irreplaceable for its role in aerospace. This is because vanadium possesses the remarkable ability to make steel alloys both stronger and lighter. In fact, vanadium-titanium alloys have the best strength-to-weight ratio of any engineered material.
With the boom in global infrastructure development, steel consumption is driving the market for vanadium. While the steel industry currently uses 90% to 97% of the 60,000 tonnes of vanadium produced annually worldwide, its application in the growing trend toward battery power and energy storage marks a significant tipping of the scales.
It turns out that renewable energy's greatest challenge is vanadium's greatest opportunity.
The vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB), invented at the
University of New South Wales in , is a game-changer. It
has a lifespan of tens of thousands of cycles, does not self-discharge while
idle or generate high amounts of heat when charging, and can absorb and
discharge huge amounts of electricity instantly--over and over again. Australia
VRFB technology not only provides the missing link in scaling renewable energy to national levels but also in reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Safe and versatile, the VRFB is fast moving toward mainstream acceptance as a medium for grid-scaled energy storage by the global green industry.
The signs are evident: China's Prudent Energy, a rising star and VRFB manufacturer based in Beijing and Washington, was named to the 2010 Global Cleantech 100 as one of the most promising private technology companies poised to make a significant market impact over the next decade. Prudent Energy was chosen from more than 5,000 firms from 14 countries by an expert committee drawn from Fortune 500 titans including BASF, GE, Honeywell, IBM, Siemens and Proctor & Gamble.
"It's a matter of a better technology winning the day," according to Prudent Energy president Tim Hennessy: "Our vanadium redox battery energy storage systems are unique in their ability to repeatedly deep cycle and rapidly recharge with little or no capacity change. Our units have been independently tested, and the field results over the last three years have shown a performance way in excess of any other technology currently in the field."
Prudent Energy has installed VRFB systems all around the world and, unlike other flow battery systems, the energy-holding electrolyte in their systems operates at room temperature and never wears out.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the recent acquisition of Cellstrom GmbH, another VRFB manufacturer based in
German conglomerate Gildemeister GmbH, underlines the recognition by global
corporations of the growing importance of energy storage. Since 2008, Cellstrom
has successfully marketed VRFBs throughout Europe and most recently in Austria , where
they are installed as back-up systems for factories in regions frequently hit
by power outages. India
Department of Energy (DoE) has
identified VRFBs as a leading solution for storing renewable energy. They are
currently conducting a smart grid regional demonstration program with field research
for the VRFB in the city of U.S. Painesville, , in conjunction
with state and local power authorities. "This project will help ensure
that residents and businesses in Ohio
have access to a safe, secure and stable power supply," Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland
Vanadium is also proving to be a highly effective additive to existing batteries in small-scale applications. In the case of electric cars, vanadium is being combined with lithium to act as a "supercharger" that increases the battery's energy density and, hence, the distance a car can travel.
Clean technologies and materials analyst, Jon Hykawy of Byron Capital Markets, sees a new fork in the road: "Vanadium is the best cathode material that can be used in these automobiles. And we're starting to see that conjecture being borne out by the battery industry, which is looking at lithium-vanadium-phosphate cathodes as one of the more important drivers for a higher-power, and, potentially, a much less expensive battery for the automotive industry."
By comparison, the 2011 Chevy Volt can only travel 56 km on its lithium-ion battery alone until its range extender kicks in, with a 10-hour recharge cycle. Along with DBM, a host of other companies including China's BYD Auto Co., Japan's GS Yuasa Corp.,
Japan's Subaru and U.S.A.'s
Technologies, have vanadium-based batteries either in development or in plans
for production. Valence
The question is with growing acceptance for vanadium usage in cars and energy storage solutions, what is holding the technology back from mass adoption?
Martha Schreiber, chief operating officer of Cellstrom GmbH, pins it down to a combination of price and legal issues: "The highly volatile price of vanadium makes it very difficult to calculate stable price conditions, not only for manufacturers but for the end consumer as well. Moreover, this leads to a very conservative pricing policy by manufacturers to the detriment of mass-market penetration. The technology for VRFBs has also been blocked by original patents dating back to 1987. It has only been since their expiry in 2007 that has allowed companies to openly develop the technology."
These emerging energy storage technologies require a high-purity form of vanadium called V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide). And the amount a single VRFB requires is massive: anywhere from one to five tonnes each. Today, the current value of steel-grade V2O5 is around $7 per pound and expected to increase, while battery manufacturers are paying anywhere between $10 to $30 per pound for battery-grade V2O5.
On the strength of the steel industry alone, vanadium demand is growing at 7% annually and predicted to outpace global supplies by 2012. Analysts firmly believe that vanadium demand will significantly increase over the coming years but they are less able to confidently predict that supply can keep up with demand. China is currently the world's largest exporter and consumer of vanadium, followed by
South Africa and . Russia
With very few primary mines coming on line in the next decade, this leads to a delicate balancing act where supply can keep pace only if all junior projects reach market and none are delayed.
The crux is that the VRFB can only be developed to its full potential once the global supply and pricing of V2O5 is stabilized.
One project is set to accomplish just that: The aptly named Green Giant vanadium project in
is an initiative of Toronto-based
mining companyEnergizerResources( TSX. V: EGZ) and is singularly positioned to
supply battery-grade V2O5 in sufficient quantity to meet the surge in demand. Madagascar
The Green Giant vanadium deposit is a sedimentary-hosted deposit, allowing for relatively easy extraction, which makes it unique among the world's known deposits. The company just released an updated and expanded National Instrument 43-101 compliant resource estimate of 59 million tonnes, making it the third largest known vanadium deposit in the world. And the resource has excellent potential to expand even further: 75% of its 21-km (18-mile) vanadium trend remains open for drilling.
Energizer Resources has assembled a management team with the necessary experience and networks to develop the Green Giant project. Led by president and chief operating officer, Julie Lee Harrs, a seasoned mining executive formerly with Vale Inco and Sherritt International, Energizer is at the cusp of playing an integral part in renewable energy's storage solution. Ms. Lee Harrs recognizes the scale of the opportunity: "Energizer is positioning itself to be the largest supplier of battery-grade V2O5 in the world -- while at the same time being able to accommodate the growing demand from the steel market. The Green Giant has incredible scalability to be able to meet the demands of both industries and ramp up as necessary."
Energizer Resources is further supported by an impressive group of directors and consultants including Richard Quesnel, Brian Tobin, Peter Harder and Howard Balloch, who offer extensive mining, political and governmental experience. Not to mention DRA Mineral Projects, a leading mine engineering and construction company based in
, who will lead the
development of the Green Giant project. South Africa
Energizer's Green Giant is positioned to be the only mining operation capable of economically supplying battery-grade V2O5, while at the same time bringing the necessary stability of supply and price to the vanadium market.
When Piper Jaffray projects a $600-billion market for energy storage solutions, there's little doubt the future will be battery powered. Energy industry analyst Nick Hodge agrees: "With that kind of anticipated spending, you should seriously start thinking about allocating a portion of your portfolio to energy storage companies."
In the race to build a better battery, it makes equal sense to consider investing in the resource companies that will provide the raw materials for these energy storage manufacturers.
In that respect, it's hard not to go with a company like Energizer Resources -- because when it comes to vanadium and the power to release its massive energy potential, Energizer holds the key.
To learn more about vanadium and the Green Giant project, visit Energizer Resources at www.energizerresources.com sor call 1-800-818-5442.