Can Flow Batteries Replace Diesel Generators?
In Sandy Lake, Ontario (population 2,650), the diesel fuel that powers this remote community a thousand miles northwest of Toronto costs around $9 a gallon. And even then, in its harsh northern climate, it provides electricity only some of the time.
"There's always problems, there's always power outages," grumbles Harry Meekis, capital projects manager for the Sandy Lake First Nation. "Diesel is the only source of service that we have right now. Whether that's affordable or not, that's the only source we have," he added.
Needless to say, they're looking for alternatives, and a Canadian mining company thinks it has found one in a new battery using the little-known metal vanadium.
Without any feasible storage options, renewable sources like wind turbines and solar panels can generate power only when the wind blows and the sun shines. With storage, the power could be stored and distributed whenever needed, one of the reasons storage technology is being described as the "holy grail" in renewable energy.
Multiple battery technologies are being experimented with right now, including lithium and cadmium flow batteries, but Vancouver, British Columbia-based American Vanadium thinks vanadium flow batteries could have several distinct advantages, including durability and scalability.
The battery relies on an electrolyte compound made of a mixture of vanadium, a metal commonly used to harden steel, and sulfuric acid in a container that can continuously charge and discharge. Unlike most batteries, the electrolyte would not degrade over time because the anode and cathode aren't made out of competing material. And, since it's mostly made of water, it's nontoxic and can't explode, according to Ron MacDonald, executive chairman of American Vanadium.