The Future of Batteries: a Distributed Approach to Energy Storage
Written By: Edward Colby
The energy generation landscape is changing rapidly. On the one hand, demand is growing as population increases and more nations industrialise. On the other, the supply side is making use of more forms of renewable and intermittent energy sources, such as wind and solar. While electricity storage has long been regarded as an important, albeit expensive and difficult solution to grid balancing, this dual challenge means that we now require more efficient methods of energy storage than ever before, especially at times of peak demand. Fortunately, technology advancements have brought more cost-effective options, particularly in the field of batteries, to the fore.
Energy storage units are already in use to contend with intermittent supply, with large-scale batteries being employed to stabilise intermittent power generated via wind farms. These energy storage units can also be employed to back up a grid shortfall and cover for downtime, and are typically formed of either banks of lead acid batteries (~1MW), NaS (~10s of MW), or lithium ion batteries (~10s MW). These back-up batteries can be made portable, and transported (often by lorry) to areas as required for use by electricity aggregators needing to provide extra power in times of shortfall.
A further method being considered for the future is that of distributed storage, under which much smaller battery units are used by individual households and, when interfaced with other similar deployments situated nearby, can offer a capacity that would be both flexible and large enough to cover peak demand within a locale. The battery units would be lithium-based technology, but in much smaller quantities that do not require the specialist delivery and installation of large-scale options. These units are designed to provide the highest power densities available of current technologies, but would be small enough to store in areas such as a garage.
Battery technology is available to provide this type of distributed storage function, however, what is needed for widespread adoption is for specialists to develop technology that provides improved cost per cycle, which battery manufacturers are pushing to achieve. In addition it requires specialist development of low cost, efficient power electronics.
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To implement an efficient distributed storage network, we need to be able to exchange energy between the generating source, grid and storage units with minimal losses, and a round trip efficiency of 90 per cent is a realistic but challenging target. This would allow users the flexibility to power items such as an electric vehicle, or enable the grid to draw on the distributed storage in times of peak demand or power losses and ensure we keep the lights on.
These energy storage units can be configured so that users can make choices about how they use their generated and stored energy, for example, allowing it to be returned to the grid in times of over supply – perhaps for a profit – or using it themselves. Certainly, it is possible that local areas could become energy self sufficient by employing a high concentration of energy storage units in combination with generators using renewable power sources such as wind and solar. If enough of them were in play, multiple small storage battery units could provide a backup to the national grid at times of peak demand. They could also form part of a ‘smart home’ architecture, whereby the energy storage interface can ‘learn’ to automate the best energy storage and usage patterns for the individual’s circumstances. This home hub could, for example, ensure that the user benefits from the best tariffs in return for feeding energy back in to the grid, or enable charging of their electric vehicle at the most economically attractive time.
We are reaching a point where the technology is affordable, and the lifecycle sufficient. Transmitting power from the grid with a low cost, reliable power converter to a battery storage unit and vice versa, on demand and efficiently, is the next battery challenge. With a smart approach, and the application of sophisticated power electronics technology to achieve it, distributed energy storage could be a reality very soon.
Itronics successfully tests manganese recovery process
Itronics - a Nevada-based emerging cleantech materials growth company that manufacturers fertilisers and produces silver - has successfully tested two proprietary processes that recover manganese, with one process recovering manganese, potassium and zinc from paste produced by processing non-rechargeable alkaline batteries. The second recovers manganese via the company’s Rock Kleen Technology.
Manganese, one of the four most important industrial metals and widely used by the steel industry, has been designated by the US Federal Government as a "critical mineral." It is a major component of non-rechargeable alkaline batteries, one of the largest battery categories sold globally.
The use of manganese in EV batteries is increasing as EV battery technology is shifting to use of more nickel and manganese in battery formulations. But according to the US Department of Interior, there is no mine production of manganese in the United States. As such, Itronics is using its Rock Kleen Technology to test metal recoverability from mine tailings obtained from a former silver mine in western Nevada that has a high manganese content.
In a statement, Itronics says that its Rock Kleen process recovers silver, manganese, zinc, copper, lead and nickel. The company says that it has calculated – based on laboratory test results – that if a Rock Kleen tailings process is put into commercial production, the former mine site would become the only primary manganese producer in the United States.
Itronics adds that it has also tested non-rechargeable alkaline battery paste recovered by a large domestic battery recycling company to determine if it could use one of its hydrometallurgical processes to solubilize the manganese, potassium, and zinc contained in the paste. This testing was successful, and Itronics was able to produce material useable in two of its fertilisers, it says.
"We believe that the chemistry of the two recovery processes would lend itself to electrochemical recovery of the manganese, zinc, and other metals. At this time electrochemical recovery has been tested for zinc and copper,” says Dr John Whitney, Itronics president.
“Itronics has been reviewing procedures for electrochemical recovery of manganese and plans to move this technology forward when it is appropriate to do so and has acquired electro-winning equipment needed to do that.
"Because of the two described proprietary technologies, Itronics is positioned to become a domestic manganese producer on a large scale to satisfy domestic demand. The actual manganese products have not yet been defined, except for use in the Company's GOLD'n GRO Multi-Nutrient Fertilisers. However, the Company believes that it will be able to produce chemical manganese products as well as electrochemical products," he adds.
Itronics’ research and development plant is located in Reno, about 40 miles west of the Tesla giga-factory. Its planned cleantech materials campus, which will be located approximately 40 miles south of the Tesla factory, would be the location where the manganese products would be produced.
Panasonic is operating one of the world's largest EV battery factories at the Tesla location. However, Tesla and other companies have announced that EV battery technology is shifting to use of nickel-manganese batteries. Itronics is positioned and located to become a Nevada-0based supplier of manganese products for battery manufacturing as its manganese recovery technologies are advanced, the company states.
A long-term objective for Itronics is to become a leading producer of high purity metals, including the U.S. critical metals manganese and tin, using the Company's breakthrough hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, and electrochemical technologies. ‘Additionally, Itronics is strategically positioned with its portfolio of "Zero Waste Energy Saving Technologies" to help solve the recently declared emergency need for domestic production of Critical Minerals from materials located at mine sites,’ the statement continues.
The Company's growth forecast centers upon its 10-year business plan designed to integrate its Zero Waste Energy Saving Technologies and to grow annual sales from $2 million in 2019, to $113 million in 2025.