This article is supported by brilliant our energy grids getting cleaner all the time that’s a great thing, but if we’re ever gon na really get rid of polluting sources of energy. We’re gon na have to solve the problem of the intermittency of renewable energy, either that or figure out how to make the Sun Shine at night, which I sleep bad enough as it is.
But the problem is even worse than that, because sometimes even when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing and energy is being produced, we don’t have any place to put that energy. You probably at some point driven past a wind farm and seeing some of the turbines not spinning, and if you’re anything like me, you probably thought to yourself man, these things break down a lot, and sometimes that’s the case, But usually when you see that what’s actually going on is that that wind farm is producing exactly as much energy as that local or regional grid needs at that time.
The reason those other turbines aren’t spinning, is because there’s. Nowhere for that energy to go. This is known as curtailment. If you drive an electric car, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
When the battery gets a hundred percent charged, it turns off the regenerative braking which actually is kind of weird, because now the car is driving completely differently, but it does it for the same reason.
There’s, just no place for that energy to go because the battery is fully charged so yeah. The same is true for the wind and solar grids out there. Sometimes they actually make too much energy so considering how much of a push there is out there for renewable energy, we sure do waste a lot of it so yeah.
If we’re ever gon na get serious about renewable energies, we have to find some kind of storage solution for the energy that gets produced without that it’s, always going to be an alternative form of energy.
A supplement to the system. Now there are a lot of renewable storage systems out there. I & # 39, ve talked about many of them on channel and we’re, probably going to need every single one of them somewhere down the line in the future, but the one that gets.
Probably the most attention is battery storage. Ever since lithium-ion batteries were introduced to the market in the 90s, their use has grown, their storage capacities increased and now they’re being produced to the scale we never could have imagined before they power everything from the devices that fit in our pockets.
To our cars and even our homes, and just in the last five years or so, we started to see grid scale, lithium-ion, battery solutions that can power entire communities or serve as sort of a peeker plant.
Take the place of gas speaker plants when usage spikes and these types of storage facilities are increasingly popping up all over the world day. Soon we may see battery packs like a power. Entire cities go lithium-ion.
There is, of course, a downside. Wouldn’t, be my channel that there wasn’t wouldn’t, be reality for that matter. The theme ion batteries are quickly coming down in price, thankfully, but they are still pretty expensive, partly because there’s.
Just such a demand for them right now, battery production is still the biggest bottleneck to EB production and the number of electric cars is rising every year. Increasing the demand for lithium ion packs, which grid scale utility solutions are gon na have to share.
Plus there’s. The energy and resources required to make lithium-ion batteries, as I’ve covered in a previous article. Lithium ion packs require precious metals that are hard to come by and expensive, and the resources and energy involved in making lithium-ion batteries produces a pretty significant carbon footprint.
As you probably already know, Tesla battery packs are made out of 2170 cells. Thousands of these things tightly packed together and each one of these cells are tightly wound, with layers of anode and cathode and electrolyte and insulation there’s.
A reason these battery packs weigh so much so if you want to expand to a utility scale system, you’ve got to make more of these a lot more of these. I got curious about this. I looked at the Tesla Mira Loma facility in California, which is an 80 megawatt hour installation and according to an article in The Verge, it has quote six million four hundred sixty two thousand seven hundred and twenty cells of those 2170 cells and that’S just a peeker plant, Australia’s; horns dáil battery station, which is considered the biggest battery installation in the whole world, just upgraded in February to one hundred ninety three point: five megawatt hours and according to the Verge’s numbers anyway.
That would come out to about fifteen point five million 2170 cells. But if you wanted to power an entire city like take my hometown in Dallas, I did a little bit of math and I figured out that we would probably need a six hundred and sixteen megawatt hour system, which would require 55 million 2170 cells.
That’s. A lot of cells now to be fair, Tesla did just signed a deal with PG & amp E to build a one gigawatt hour battery station in California. So they do think that they can handle that kind of capacity.
But you can see how scaling up requires a lot of scaling up with lithium-ion, not to mention the end-of-life issues with these kinds of big dense, complex batteries, granted they can last a couple of deck, but battery recycling is a long way to go and either way You slice it it’s.
Very energy-intensive. Look, lithium ion packs are great, they have changed our world, I am all for them, but the truth is the bigger you scale. These things up, the more energy and resource intensive they become.
To quote about a million TV commercials there & # 39, s got to be a better way, so this is where. Finally, we need to talk about redox flow batteries, because redox flow batteries are designed to be scalable and simple, and they do it by making the battery liquid, it is a liquid battery.
Now, most batteries energy is absorbed or released through the reaction of an electrolyte solution. With a positive anode and a negative cathode, but in flow batteries, the electrolyte solution itself is the anode and cathode.
So you have two tanks. One tank filled with positively charged ions called the analyte. The other tank has a negatively charged electrolyte called the katha light. One of the more popular electrolyte solutions is based on vanadium, salts in mouths of uric acid, the positively charged analytes called v4 and the negatively charged cattle is called v3 according to their oxidation states.
So these solutions are then pumped into two halves of a fuel cell, separated by an ion exchange membrane when an electrical charge is applied, say from a solar panel or windmill ions flow across the membrane, from one solution to the other turning v3 into v2 and v4, And v5, basically increasing the positive and negative charges in the solutions, essentially charging the battery and then the discharge.
The battery. It just works in Reverse the ions across the membrane, producing the current that will go on to power. Those 5g towers that are all gon na. Somehow give us a virus and yeah what’s, so cool about them is that they’re easily scalable you don’t have to build millions of tiny little battery packs.
If you want more storage capacity, just build bigger tanks, what more power just add? More fuel cells there’s literally unlimited capacity. It’s supposed to be good for five thousand cycles, which gives it a lifespan of around thirteen years.
Although I’ve seen some predictions go up to twenty thousand cycles, but even then, when it stops holding a charge anymore, all you have to do is just replace the solution. I’m sure there are other maintenance issues over that time span as well.
You may have to replace that ion membrane, for example, but you get the point now another cool thing about them is you can charge them all the way up to a hundred and discharge them all the way down to zero, with no degradation in the battery? What’s as opposed to lithium-ion batteries, but you have to keep between 20 and 80 percent for peak performance.
In fact, they can sit at zero charge for years and then just kick off again with no losses whatsoever sounds great. What’s, the catch, the catch, which is the same catch that you have to deal with with all storage solutions, is the specific energy or the energy density of the battery, which right now is around 20 watt hours per kilogram.
To compare that to lithium-ion that’s around 200 watt hours per kilogram, another problem at the moment, anyways the vanadium, isn’t cheap and it’s, not very easy to extract either. Although there is a lot more of it out there than lithium or manganese nickel and cobalt for that matter now the retort to that argument is that these are grit scale, battery solutions.
You can make them as big as you want so energy density isn’t that big of a problem Pumped hydro, for example, has an extremely low energy density, but it makes up for it in sheer volume and flow batteries are still in the very First generation there’s, a second generation that’s already in the works that contain different solutions, including bromide and cerium.
By the way, the reason vanadium is preferred for this is because it can exist in four different states of oxidation. That’s, the V two three four and five that I mentioned earlier, that’s, the redox part of the name that stands for reduction oxidation, which is the name of any kind of chemical reaction where the oxidation state of the atom Has changed now? Another thing about vanadium that I do need to mention is that it’s considered very toxic, so these solutions would have to be very carefully maintained.
In fact, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, it takes 35 milligrams of vanadium per meter cubed to possibly cause some kind of permanent injury or death, but there are a lot of different types of flow batteries that use different kind of chemistry.
Some of them are actually organic solutions, not that you would probably want to drink them or anything, but they’re, probably more environmentally safe, and there are different types of flow batteries like hybrid flow batteries, membraneless flow batteries and semi solid flow batteries.
Right now, the biggest flow battery facility is a 16 megawatt hour station in Japan. A more recent one was built in Germany that’s, 20 megawatt hours, and several companies are working on residential and grid scale.
Solutions like watt, Joule, reflow and Australia and Schmidt and Germany and in China ronke power is in the process of building an 800 megawatt hour station and Dalian that’s expected to be finished sometime this year.
But I think we can expect delays on that at this point, so full batteries it’s still hard to say how widespread they’ll become, but I think the potential on these things is pretty massive. It’s. It’s, definitely one of those topics.
So once I looked into it, I became a lot more interested than I thought it would be with new chemistry’s that are less corrosive and more environmentally friendly and more energy dense and cheaper. They could have a foothold in our energy future, keep in mind.
It took lithium-ion 40 years, the game market dominance and right now, yeah it’s, pretty much the 800-pound gorilla and battery storage as the production keeps going up and the cost keeps going down. Low batteries can really only compete with lithium-ion at really large scales and right now there just aren’t enough, really big scale.
Redox flow batteries out there to prove that case. The one the one in China goes up on light when that has some data to work with, though one argument I might make for the use of flow batteries and utilities scale.
Grid solutions is that it would free up more lithium-ion batteries for electric cars, which would lower the cost of EVs and speaking of cars. You might wonder if a car could be run on a flow battery because it might kind of be the best of both worlds.
An electric car that you could charge just like any other Evi or since all the charges carried in the electrolyte, you could just replace the electrolyte with a pump in minutes like a gas car. The challenge there, of course, is that whole energy density thing, but there are some companies that are working on this.
A german company called nano flow cell, has a test. Car called the quanti know that last years have passed, 350,000, kilometers or 220,000 miles with no battery degradation in no signs of damage of the fuel cell.
They’re, still testing it, but they estimate it might be able to perform beyond a million miles. Now that’s, amazing, of course, but to compensate for the lack of energy density, it can only run at 48 volts, which is actually incredibly low.
For example, the Nissan Leafs and Tesla’s, run between 325 and 400 volts. So yeah. You’re, not gon na be smoking people off the line in this car. It’s kind of barely road-ready there’s. Also, a researcher from Purdue University that announced a flow battery for cars last year that gets 300 miles of range can be refilled in minutes, but it’s, not rechargeable.
You can only refill the tanks and the anode material has to be replaced every 3,000 miles kind of like oil changes. I will say it’s. Somebody who hasn’t had to deal with oil changes in a couple of years.
That feels like a step backwards. Now these are cool ideas and, to be honest, this was the use case. That kind of got me interested in researching redox flow batteries in the first place, but the more I look into it.
It seems to all the same problems that hydrogen fuel-cell cars have, which is the yes. You can reconfigure the already existing gasoline infrastructure to hold hydrogen or the electrolytes for a flow battery, but it’s.
A lot cheaper to just build charging stations than to redo all these gas stations and Plus that electrolyte has to be trucked in which adds to the environmental footprint it & # 39. S like it has all the advantages of gasoline, but it also has all the disadvantages.
Now one could probably calculate the energy costs of making lithium ion packs and compare that to the energy cost of having a truck in electrolyte and whatnot. I chose not to go down that rabbit hole, but if anybody has done that, please do share that down in the comments but lithium ion taking such huge strides in cost and the efficiency getting better every year.
My bet is that it’s. What’s, going to power? Eevee’s for the foreseeable future, but when it comes to grid storage, I definitely see a future for Flo batteries. In fact, I could see a day where towns and cities are punctuated by water towers and flow towers that store the energy that’s, made that day through the solar and the the wind and then dulls that out over the night time, and maybe Just maybe you’ll, never see a windmill sitting still again.
Flo batteries and other energy storage solutions are, as I said, before, the key to making renewable energies the energy of the future. But if you want to know how the energy gets created in the first place, I can highly recommend the solar energy course.
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