“Turning Up the Heat” – Heat-resistant nanophotonic material could help turn heat into electricity: U of Michigan


Looking for Renewable Energy Sources “In the Small Things” Contributed By G. Cherry UOM
A new nanophotonic material has broken records for high-temperature stability, potentially ushering in more efficient electricity production and opening a variety of new possibilities in the control and conversion of thermal radiation.
Developed by a University of Michigan-led team of chemical and materials science engineers, the material controls the flow of infrared radiation and is stable at temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit in air, a nearly twofold improvement over existing approaches.
The material uses a phenomenon called destructive interference to reflect infrared energy while letting shorter wavelengths pass through. This could potentially reduce heat waste in thermophotovoltaic cells, which convert heat into electricity but can’t use infrared energy, by reflecting infrared waves back into the system. The material could also be useful in optical photovoltaics, thermal imaging, environmental barrier coatings, sensing, camouflage from infrared surveillance devices and other applications.
“It’s similar to the way butterfly wings use wave interference to get their color. Butterfly wings are made up of colorless materials, but those materials are structured and patterned in a way that absorbs some wavelengths of white light but reflects others, producing the appearance of color,” said Andrej Lenert, U-M assistant professor of chemical engineering and co-corresponding author of the study in Nature Photonics (“Nanophotonic control of thermal emission under extreme conditions”).
“This material does something similar with infrared energy. The challenging part has been preventing breakdown of that color-producing structure under high heat.”
The approach is a major departure from the current state of engineered thermal emitters, which typically use foams and ceramics to limit infrared emissions. These materials are stable at high temperature but offer very limited control over which wavelengths they let through. Nanophotonics could offer much more tunable control, but past efforts haven’t been stable at high temperatures, often melting or oxidizing (the process that forms rust on iron). In addition, many nanophotonic materials only maintain their stability in a vacuum.
The new material works toward solving that problem, besting the previous record for heat resistance among air-stable photonic crystals by more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit in open air. In addition, the material is tunable, enabling researchers to tweak it to modify energy for a wide variety of potential applications. The research team predicted that applying this material to existing TPVs will increase efficiency by 10% and believes that much greater efficiency gains will be possible with further optimization.
The team developed the solution by combining chemical engineering and materials science expertise. Lenert’s chemical engineering team began by looking for materials that wouldn’t mix even if they started to melt.
“The goal is to find materials that will maintain nice, crisp layers that reflect light in the way we want, even when things get very hot,” Lenert said. “So we looked for materials with very different crystal structures, because they tend not to want to mix.”
They hypothesized that a combination of rock salt and perovskite, a mineral made of calcium and titanium oxides, fit the bill. Collaborators at U-M and the University of Virginia ran supercomputer simulations to confirm that the combination was a good bet.
John Heron, co-corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at U-M, and Matthew Webb, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering, then carefully deposited the material using pulsed laser deposition to achieve precise layers with smooth interfaces. To make the material even more durable, they used oxides rather than conventional photonic materials; the oxides can be layered more precisely and are less likely to degrade under high heat.
“In previous work, traditional materials oxidized under high heat, losing their orderly layered structure,” Heron said. “But when you start out with oxides, that degradation has essentially already taken place. That produces increased stability in the final layered structure.”
After testing confirmed that the material worked as designed, Sean McSherry, first author of the study and a doctoral student in materials science and engineering at U-M, used computer modeling to identify hundreds of other combinations of materials that are also likely to work. While commercial implementation of the material tested in the study is likely years away, the core discovery opens up a new line of research into a variety of other nanophotonic materials that could help future researchers develop a range of new materials for a variety of applications.
Source: By Gabe Cherry, University of Michigan

Loop Energy Grows European Footprint with UK Expansion


VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA and LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – August 16, 2022 – Loop Energy™ (TSX: LPEN), a designer and manufacturer of hydrogen fuel cells for commercial mobility, will extend its presence in Europe later this month by expanding into the UK.

Loop Energy’s newest facility will be based in Grays, Essex, just east of the centre of London and next to a growing group of manufacturers helping decarbonize road transport, including current customer Tevva Motors, the hydrogen and electric truck OEM which is based in Tilbury.

Loop Energy has already started to recruit for the roles at the new facility, with employees assisting in the areas of production support, customer support and inventory.

The move is in reaction to growing customer demand for Loop Energy’s fuel cells in continental Europe and the UK, where diesel and petrol vehicles will start to be banned from 2030.

Loop Energy, which is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and has raised $100 million CAD so far, is targeting the commercial vehicle sector, including buses and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

Diesel and petrol HGVs made up 18% of all road emissions in 2019, amounting to 19.5 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e), according to UK government data.

The market for zero-emissions commercial vehicles continues to evolve quickly and Loop Energy is well positioned to provide its technology and expertise to help OEMs and others decarbonize the transportation industry.

The announcement comes just a month after Loop Energy signed a multi-year fuel cell supply agreement with UK-based Tevva, which includes delivery commitments in excess of US$12 million through 2023.

Elsewhere, Loop Energy recently entered the Australian bus market as a supplier of fuel cell modules to Aluminium Revolutionary Chassis Company (ARCC) and the company has seen its order book grow substantially for its technology, with 52 purchase orders in the six months to the end of June, up from 13 over the same period last year.

Loop Energy President & CEO, Ben Nyland said:

“We are excited to open a new facility in the UK, where both the private and public sector is quickly growing around decarbonizing commercial vehicles. We were pleased to see the UK government’s recent commitment to the hydrogen sector, with the Business Secretary’s pledge to unlock £9bn investment needed to make hydrogen a cornerstone of the UK’s greener future,”

“Our investment commitment for the UK market is strategic to serve both UK and the rest of Europe. We expect to service a truck and bus market size upwards of US $15 Billion over the next 2 to 3 years, and our UK facility is established as the localized support center for these vehicles. Our investments to the UK will grow in lock-step with the growth of our local OEM customers, and our investment strategy will align with the timing and volume of our ecosystem partners as the industry ramps up supply to this market,”

“We also believe that the UK’s strong pool of manufacturing and design talent will help take Loop to the next level in its growth story.”

UK Business Minister Lord Callanan said:

“Hydrogen is likely to be fundamental to cutting emissions across some of our largest forms of commercial transport – from buses to heavy goods vehicles. As the world shifts to cleaner transport it is critical we embed a UK supply chain that can capture the economic opportunities of hydrogen technology,”

“Loop Energy’s expansion in Essex is fantastic news for the region, bringing green jobs and growth, while adding to the UK’s reputation as a leader in hydrogen and fuel cell research.”


About Loop Energy Inc.
Loop Energy is a leading designer and manufacturer of fuel cell systems targeted for the electrification of commercial vehicles, including light commercial vehicles, transit buses and medium and heavy-duty trucks. Loop’s products feature the company’s proprietary eFlow™ technology in the fuel cell stack’s bipolar plates. eFlow™ is designed to enable commercial customers to achieve performance maximization and cost minimization. Loop works with OEMs and major vehicle sub-system suppliers to enable the production of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. For more information about how Loop is driving towards a zero-emissions future, visit www.loopenergy.com.
Forward Looking Warning

This press release contains forward-looking information within the meaning of applicable securities legislation, which reflect management’s current expectations and projections regarding future events. Particularly, statements regarding the Company’s expectations of future results, performance, achievements, prospects or opportunities or the markets in which we operate is forward-looking information, including without limitation the ability for Loop to service the truck and bus market and the market’s potential to reach upwards of US $15 billion.

Forward-looking information is based on a number of assumptions (including without limitation assumptions with respect to the potential growth of the bus and truck market and is subject to a number of risks and uncertainties, many of which are beyond the Company’s control and could cause actual results and events to vary materially from those that are disclosed, or implied, by such forward‐looking information. Such risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, the market reaching the TAM of upwards of US $15 billion, the realization of electrification of transportation, the elimination of diesel fuel and ongoing government support of such developments, the expected growth in demand for fuel cells for the commercial transportation market and the factors discussed under “Risk Factors” in the Company’s Annual Information Form dated March 23, 2022. Loop disclaims any obligation to update these forward-looking statements.

Source: Loop Energy Inc.

‘Quantum Dot’ Photovoltaic Window Project to receive Funding from U.S. Air force


UbiQD, a nanotechnology company, has revealed that its quantum dot solar technology will be used in a Small Business Innovation Research project with the US Air Force. The contract provides funding for two installations of more than 20 windows and additional scale-up and development funds for the product.

“We are seeing strong fiscal support for sustainability initiatives in the built environment right now,” said CEO Hunter McDaniel. “Our expanded contract with the US Air Force couldn’t come at a better time, right as we are scaling and ahead of the upgraded solar investment tax incentives.”

The company uses luminescent quantum dot tinting to concentrate solar energy and generate electricity while maintaining transparency. Quantum dots are photoluminescent particles so small that it would take 100,000 of them to span one fingernail, said UbiQD. The company said the technology has applications in localized DC microgrids and smart building solutions, including integration with sensors for climate and ambient controls.

Commercial buildings account for 36% of all US electricity consumption at a cost of more than $190 billion annually. Additionally, windows represent 30% of a commercial building’s heating and cooling energy, costing US building owners about $50 billion annually, according to the US Department of Energy.

UbiQD’s quantum-dot tinted window, called WENDOW, has recently been installed in a series of demonstrations projects, including a campus building at the Western Washington University, which the company said is the largest solar window installation to date. The WENDOW can be tinted, allowing for colorful designs. The university installation features vibrant yellow and orange windows. 

“This technology helps Western Washington University get closer to achieving our sustainability goals on campus,” said David Patrick, vice provost for research. “I was impressed by how easily the windows were installed and love how great they look. I’m hoping to see more projects like this on campus in the near future.” 

While the solar windows offer less efficiency than a conventional solar panel, they represent an alternative to blending photovoltaics with the build environment. Read more about solar in uncommon spaces.

UbiQD also builds translucent panels for greenhouses that are integrated with photoluminescent particles that are efficient at converting light into a preferable wavelength. The UbiQD “UbiGro” panels glow a spectrum of color that is optimized for plant growth, absorbing UV and blue light and emitting fruitful orange or red light.

In recent trials, UbiGro led to a 21% boost in flowering in geranium flowers, a 14 to 28% boost in winter strawberry growth, and an 8% yield increase in cannabis production. Increased crop yields are a welcome sign to any grower, and the two companies are set to take that benefit one step further, integrating productive solar PV in the greenhouse-topping modules.

From pv magazine USA **

Solar Cell Solutions to Industry’s Biggest Hurdle – Degradation – UCLA Samueli School of Engineering


Solar Solutions 031822

Materials scientists at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering and colleagues from five other universities around the world have discovered the major reason why perovskite solar cells — which show great promise for improved energy-conversion efficiency — degrade in sunlight, causing their performance to suffer over time.  

The team successfully demonstrated a simple manufacturing adjustment to fix the cause of the degradation, clearing the biggest hurdle toward the widespread adoption of the thin-film solar cell technology. 

  

A research paper detailing the findings was published in Nature. The research is led by Yang Yang, a UCLA Samueli professor of materials science and engineering and holder of the Carol and Lawrence E. Tannas, Jr., Endowed Chair. The co-first authors are Shaun Tan and Tianyi Huang, both recent UCLA Samueli Ph.D. graduates whom Yang advised. 

Perovskites are a group of materials that have the same atomic arrangement or crystal structure as the mineral calcium titanium oxide. A subgroup of perovskites, metal halide perovskites, are of great research interest because of their promising application for energy-efficient, thin-film solar cells.  

 

Perovskite-based solar cells could be manufactured at much lower costs than their silicon-based counterparts, making solar energy technologies more accessible if the commonly known degradation under long exposure to illumination can be properly addressed. For further information see the IDTechEx report on Energy Harvesting Microwatt to Gigawatt: Opportunities 2020-2040. 

   

“Perovskite-based solar cells tend to deteriorate in sunlight much faster than their silicon counterparts, so their effectiveness in converting sunlight to electricity drops over the long term,” said Yang, who is also a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. “However, our research shows why this happens and provides a simple fix. This represents a major breakthrough in bringing perovskite technology to commercialization and widespread adoption.” 

  

A common surface treatment used to remove solar cell defects involves depositing a layer of organic ions that makes the surface too negatively charged. The UCLA-led team found that while the treatment is intended to improve energy-conversion efficiency during the fabrication process of perovskite solar cells, it also unintentionally creates a more electron-rich surface — a potential trap for energy-carrying electrons. 

  

This condition destabilizes the orderly arrangement of atoms, and over time the perovskite solar cells become increasingly less efficient, ultimately making them unattractive for commercialization. 

  

Armed with this new discovery, the researchers found a way to address the cells’ long-term degradation by pairing the positively charged ions with negatively charged ones for surface treatments. The switch enables the surface to be more electron-neutral and stable, while preserving the integrity of the defect-prevention surface treatments. 

  

 The team tested the endurance of their solar cells in a lab under accelerated ageing conditions and 24/7 illumination designed to mimic sunlight. The cells managed to retain 87% of their original sunlight-to-electricity conversion performance for more than 2,000 hours. For comparison, solar cells manufactured without the fix dropped to 65% of their original performance after testing over the same time and conditions. 

  

“Our perovskite solar cells are among the most stable in efficiency reported to date,” Tan said. “At the same time, we’ve also laid new foundational knowledge, on which the community can further develop and refine our versatile technique to design even more stable perovskite solar cells.” 

  

Source and top image: University of California Los Angeles 

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ONE (Our Next Energy) Raises $65M to Accelerate Plans for First US factory – Tests New Prototype Battery in Tesla Model S – Achieves 752 Mile Range


Michigan-based energy storage technology company, Our Next Energy (ONE), has raised an additional $65 million in a new funding round led by BMW i Ventures. The new funding round will allow ONE to expand its operations and prepare for increasing demand and customer activity.

It also announced that it has signed contracts with four customers totaling more than 25 GWh of energy storage capacity over the next five years, equating to approximately 300,000 electric vehicle battery packs. This development allows ONE to begin the process of site selection for its first US-based battery factory.

Last year, the company demonstrated its proof-of-concept Gemini battery that powered an electric vehicle 752-mile (1,210-km) without recharging. In late December. It retrofitted a Tesla Model S with an experimental battery for real-world road testing across Michigan, where the test vehicle achieved 882 miles (1,419 km) at an average speed of 55 mph (88.5 km/h).

“This most recent investment accelerates the timeline for ONE’s Gemini battery technology following our recent 752-mile range demonstration. We are excited to have BMW i Ventures lead this round, and we are thrilled to welcome Coatue Management and their support as we raise the capital required to build a U.S. cell factory that supports Aries and Gemini,” said Mujeeb Ijaz, Founder, and CEO of ONE.

The ONE battery factory wants to accelerate electrification with safer, more powerful energy storage technologies that use more sustainable raw materials while creating a reliable, low-cost, and conflict-free supply chain.

ONE will begin evaluating site locations for its US-based battery factory, where production will start on its first product, a smaller battery cell called Aries, in late 2022. It expects to demonstrate a production prototype of the Gemini dual-chemistry battery in 2023.

ONE-Gemini-001-Tesla-range-record-1536x1040 (1)

Read About ONE (Our Next Energy)

Green hydrogen: the world’s largest project announced in Texas


green-hydrogen_060322The largest green hydrogen project in the world has just been unveiled! Named Hydrogen City, it will produce several million tons of green hydrogen every year…

With a capacity of 60 GW, Hydrogen City is a project led by the American startup Green Hydrogen International (GHI), which was founded in 2019 by renewable energy expert Brian Maxwell.

This mega-plant will be located in Duval County, a sparsely populated area located in southern Texas. It will be powered by wind and solar energy. Pipelines will transport the hydrogen produced to the port cities of Corpus Christi about 145 km away and Brownsville on the Mexican border.

The project will also have a cavern located inside the Salt Dome of Piedras Pintas that will allow on-site storage of the hydrogen produced. GHI claims that it will be possible to create about fifty similar caves in this area. This will allow Hydrogen City to store up to 6 TWh of energy.

Green Hydrogen International

Hydrogen City, Texas – World’s Largest Green Hydrogen Production and Storage Hub

A colossal production

Once finalized, Hydrogen City is expected to produce more than 2.5 million tons of green hydrogen per year, which currently corresponds to nearly 3.5% of global gray hydrogen production.

The first phase of 2 GW of the project will begin in 2026 with the creation of two storage caverns.

New method Using Aluminum Nanoparticles Creates Rapid, Efficient Hydrogen Generation from Water – UC Santa Cruz


Aluminum is a highly reactive metal that can strip oxygen from water molecules to generate hydrogen gas. Now, researchers at UC Santa Cruz have developed a new cost-effective and effective way to use aluminum’s reactivity to generate clean hydrogen fuel.

In a new study, a team of researchers shows that an easily produced composite of gallium and aluminum creates aluminum nanoparticles that react rapidly with water at room temperature to yield large amounts of hydrogen. According to researchers, the gallium was easily recovered for reuse after the reaction, which yields 90% of the hydrogen that could theoretically be produced from the reaction of all the aluminum in the composite.

“We don’t need any energy input, and it bubbles hydrogen-like crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said UCSC Chemistry Professor Scott Oliver.

The reaction of aluminum and gallium with water works because gallium removes the passive aluminum oxide coating, allowing direct contact of aluminum with water.

Using scanning electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction, the researchers showed the formation of aluminum nanoparticles in a 3:1 gallium-aluminum composite, which they found to be the optimal ratio for hydrogen production. In this gallium-rich composite, the gallium serves both to dissolve the aluminum oxide coating and to separate the aluminum into nanoparticles.

“The gallium separates the nanoparticles and keeps them from aggregating into larger particles,” said Bakthan Singaram, corresponding authors of a paper on the new findings“People have struggled to make aluminum nanoparticles, and here we are producing them under normal atmospheric pressure and room temperature conditions.”

The researchers say the composite for their method can be made with readily available sources of aluminum, including used foil or cans. The composite can be easily stored for long periods by covering it with cyclohexane to protect it from moisture.

HF Z

While gallium is not abundant and is relatively expensive, it can be recovered and reused multiple times without losing effectiveness. However, it remains to be seen if this process can be scaled up to be practical for commercial hydrogen production.

Green Hydrogen Systems Receives Electrolysis Units from Logan Energy


Green Hydro uk-01

Green Hydrogen Systems, a leading provider of efficient pressurized alkaline electrolyzers used in on-site hydrogen production based on renewable electricity, has today signed a supply agreement with Edinburgh-based Logan Energy to deliver electrolysis equipment for a project in England.

The order includes the supply of two GHS HyProvide® A90 electrolysers with a combined capacity of 0.9 MW for the production of green hydrogen from renewable energy.

Manufactured by Green Hydrogen Systems and operated by Logan Energy, the electrolyzers will be deployed in a 40 ft container as a complete green hydrogen plant as part of plans to develop a regional hydrogen economy in Dorset, England.

Green Hydrogen Systems will be responsible for delivering the electrolyser units and will support the project with on-site maintenance and remote monitoring and support as part of a three-year service agreement.

Logan Energy is a leading hydrogen technology company with a proven track record for delivering affordable, market-ready projects and solutions in the low carbon, renewable energy, and hydrogen sectors.

When fully operational during 4Q22, the ordered electrolyzers have the capacity to provide approximately 389 kg/day of green hydrogen.

Aso Read About:

Beyond Cars: General Motors and Others Look to Expand Market for Hydrogen Fuel Cells


GM-aims-to-use-hydrogen-fuel-cells-for-mobile-power

General Motors is finding new markets for its hydrogen fuel cell systems, announcing that it will work with another company to build mobile electricity generators, electric vehicle charging stations and power generators for military camps.

The emissions-free generators will be designed to power large commercial buildings in the event of a power outage, but the company says it’s possible that smaller ones could someday be marketed for home use.

The automaker says it will supply fuel cell power systems to Renewable Innovations of Lindon, Utah, which will build the generators and rapid charging stations. The partnership adds more products and revenue from GM’s hydrogen power systems that now are being developed for heavy trucks, locomotives and even airplanes.

Hydrogen generators are far quieter than those powered by petroleum, and their only byproduct is water, Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s hydrogen business, told reporters Wednesday.

He said it’s too early to talk about prices, but said production of the systems should start in the next year. At first the generators will be aimed at powering police stations or industrial uses, as well as outdoor concerts.

“These systems run extremely quietly,” he said. “You can stand next to them while having a conversation,” he said.

But Freese said the technology also can be very compact and could be used to power homes at some point.

GM would provide the hydrogen fuel cells built at a plant in Brownstown Township, Michigan, while Renewable Innovations will build the generator units, he said.

GM is not alone in entering the hydrogen generator market. Multiple companies, including AFC Energy in the United Kingdom, are selling or testing the products, said Shawn Litster, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied hydrogen fuel cells for about two decades.

There will be more demand for the generators as vehicles switch from internal combustion to electric power. Police departments and municipal governments, he said, will need backup power to charge emergency vehicles in case of a power outage. Hydrogen can be stored for long periods and used in emergency cases, he said.

Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, is increasingly viewed, along with electric vehicles, as a way to slow the environmentally destructive impact of the planet’s 1.2 billion vehicles, most of which burn gasoline and diesel fuel. Manufacturers of large trucks and commercial vehicles are beginning to embrace hydrogen fuel cell technologies as a way forward. So are makers of planes, trains and passenger vehicles.

But generating hydrogen isn’t always clean. At present, most it is produced by using natural gas or coal for refineries and fertilizer manufacturing. That process pollutes the air, warming the planet rather than saving it. A new study by researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities found that most hydrogen production emits carbon dioxide, which means that hydrogen-fueled transportation cannot yet be considered clean energy.

Yet proponents say that in the long run, hydrogen production is destined to become more environmentally safe. They envision a growing use of electricity from wind and solar energy, which can separate hydrogen and oxygen in water. As such renewable forms of energy gain broader use, hydrogen production should become a cleaner and less expensive process.

Read More in the Scientific American: Read how other Renewable Energy Sources could power a new industrial revolution ….. that has been long delayed, but may now be ready to fulfill the promise envisioned by futurist Jeremy Rifkin in his book “The Hydrogen Economy” that prophesiedJ Rifkin the hydrogen Economy hydrogen gas would catalyze a new industrial revolution. 

Solar and Wind Power Could Ignite a Hydrogen Energy Comeback

Freese said GM would always look to get hydrogen from a green source. But he conceded that supplies synthesized from natural gas would have to be a “stepping stone” to greener sources.

The EV charging stations would be able to charge up to four vehicles at once, and they could be installed quickly without changes to the electrical grid, Freese said. They also could go up to handle seasonal demand in places where people travel, he said.

The quietness and relative lack of heat make the military generators ideal for powering a camp of soldiers, Freese said.

GM wouldn’t say how much revenue it expects from the products, and it did not release financial arrangements of the deal.

Related video:

GM looks beyond cars for hydrogen fuel cell markets originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 20 Jan 2022 08:28:00 EST.

Iron-Flow Battery Technology Breakthrough Could Displace Lithium Batteries as ‘Top Choice’ for Renewable Energy Storage


iron-flow-batteries 2

Iron-flow technology from ESS is being deployed at scale in the U.S.

The world’s electric grids are creaking under the pressure of volatile fossil-fuel prices and the imperative of weaning the world off polluting energy sources. A solution may be at hand, thanks to an innovative battery that’s a cheaper alternative to lithium-ion technology.

SB Energy Corp., a U.S. renewable-energy firm that’s an arm of Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp., is making a record purchase of the batteries manufactured by ESS Inc. The Oregon company says it has new technology that can store renewable energy for longer and help overcome some of the reliability problems that have caused blackouts in California and record-high energy prices in Europe.

Battery Breakthrough May Help End Globe’s Grid Failures
ESS batteries Photographer: Tojo Andrianarivo/Bloomberg

The units, which rely on something called “iron-flow chemistry,” will be used in utility-scale solar projects dotted across the U.S., allowing those power plants to provide electricity for hours after the sun sets. SB Energy will buy enough batteries over the next five years to power 50,000 American homes for a day.

“Long-duration energy storage, like this iron-flow battery, are key to adding more renewables to the grid,” said Venkat Viswanathan, a battery expert and associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Battery Breakthrough May Help End Globe’s Grid Failures
Founder: Craig Evans: Credit: Tojo Andrianarivo/Bloomberg

ESS was founded in 2011 by Craig Evans, now president, and Julia Song, the chief technology officer. They recognized that while lithium-ion batteries will play a key role in electrification of transport, longer duration grid-scale energy storage needed a different battery. That’s because while the price of lithium-ion batteries has declined 90% over the last decade, their ingredients, which sometimes include expensive metals such as cobalt and nickel, limit how low the price can fall.

The deal for 2 gigawatt-hours of batteries is worth at least $300 million, according to ESS. Rich Hossfeld, chief executive officer of SB Energy, said the genius of the units lies in their simplicity.

Battery Breakthrough May Help End Globe’s Grid Failures
Julia Song: Credit: Tojo Andrianarivo/Bloomberg

“The battery is made of iron salt and water,” said Hossfeld. “Unlike lithium-ion batteries, iron flow batteries are really cheap to manufacture.”

Every battery has four components: two electrodes between which charged particles shuffle as the battery is charged and discharged, electrolyte that allows the particles to flow smoothly and a separator that prevents the two electrodes from forming a short circuit.

Flow batteries, however, look nothing like the battery inside smartphones or electric cars. That’s because the electrolyte needs to be physically moved using pumps as the battery charges or discharges. That makes these batteries large, with ESS’s main product sold inside a shipping container.

What they take up in space, they can make up in cost. Lithium-ion batteries for grid-scale storage can cost as much as $350 per kilowatt-hour. But ESS says its battery could cost $200 per kWh or less by 2025.

Crucially, adding storage capacity to cover longer interruptions at a solar or wind plant may not require purchasing an entirely new battery. Flow batteries require only extra electrolyte, which in ESS’s case can cost as little as $20 per kilowatt hour.

“This is a big, big deal,” said Eric Toone, science lead at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which has invested in ESS. “We’ve been talking about flow batteries forever and ever and now it’s actually happening.”

Battery Breakthrough May Help End Globe’s Grid Failures
A worker at the ESS facility in Wilsonville, OR Credit: Tojo Andrianarivo/Bloomberg

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration built a flow battery as early as 1980. Because these batteries used water, they presented a much safer option for space applications than lithium-ion batteries developed around that time, which were infamous for catching on fire. Hossfeld says he’s been able to get permits for ESS batteries, even in wildfire-prone California, that wouldn’t have been given to lithium-ion versions.

Still, there was a problem with iron flow batteries. During charging, the battery can produce a small amount of hydrogen, which is a symptom of reactions that, left unchecked, shorten the battery’s life. ESS’s main innovation, said Song, was a way of keeping any hydrogen produced within the system and thus hugely extending its life.

“As soon as you close the loop on hydrogen, you suddenly turn a lab prototype into a commercially viable battery option,” said Viswanathan. ESS’s iron-flow battery can endure more than 20 years of daily use without losing much performance, said Hossfeld.

Battery Breakthrough May Help End Globe’s Grid Failures
Plastic sheets are treated with plasma at the ESS manufacturing facility in Wilsonville, OR
Credit: Tojo Andrianarivo/Bloomberg

At the company’s factory near Portland, yellow robots cover plastic sheets with chemicals and glue them together to form the battery cores. Inside the shipping containers, vats full of electrolyte feed into each electrode through pumps — allowing the battery to do its job of absorbing renewable power when the sun shines and releasing it when it gets dark.

It’s a promising first step. ESS’s battery is a cheap solution that can currently provide about 12 hours of storage, but utilities will eventually need batteries that can last much longer as more renewables are added to the grid. Earlier this month, for example, the lack of storage contributed to a record spike in power prices across the U.K. when wind speeds remained low for weeks. Startups such as Form Energy Inc. are also using iron, an abundant and cheap material, to build newer forms of batteries that could beat ESS on price.

So far, ESS has commercially deployed 8 megawatt-hours of iron flow batteries. Last week, after a six-month evaluation, Spanish utility Enel Green Power SpA signed a single deal for ESS to build an equivalent amount. SB Energy’s Hossfeld, who also sits on ESS’s board, said the company would likely buy still more battery capacity from ESS in the next five years.

Even as its order books fill up, ESS faces a challenging road ahead. Bringing new batteries to market is notoriously difficult and the sector is littered with failed startups. Crucially, lithium-ion technology got a head start and customers are more familiar with its pros and cons. ESS will have to prove that its batteries can meet the rigorous demands of power plant operators.

The new order should help ESS as it looks to go public within weeks through a special-purpose acquisition company at a valuation of $1.07 billion. The listing will net the company $465 million, which it plans to use to scale up its operations.

Contributions by Tom Metcalf