Enlit Europe - The Guide: Season 3 June 2021 - A Just Transition - Page 17

ion batteries , originally developed for use in consumer electronics . Many grid systems around the world are now using lithium batteries to solve short-term power quality and supply challenges .
However , the cost of deploying lithium batteries for baseload power is prohibitive , and their limited charge-then-discharge “ cycle life ” means they are best suited for intermittent use . This limits their ability to accelerate the energy transition by delivering grid-scale , sustainable power on demand .
Not only are lithium batteries not ideally suited to complete the work of decarbonizing our electric grid , they themselves also present significant risks . Lithium batteries – currently only 5 per cent recyclable – are projected to create 2 million metric tonnes of battery waste by 2030 – an environmental crisis of its own , which will divert resources from other renewable projects .
There are also a host of issues surrounding the lithium-ion supply chain , including the use of so-called ‘ conflict minerals ’ such as cobalt .
And finally , recent safety incidents at battery installations and at recycling centres are bringing into clear focus the difficulties lithium batteries present , especially for the regulators and emergency responders who have a duty to ensure public safety .
Despite these challenges , lithium is by far the dominant energy storage technology being deployed on the grid today . If regulators , governments and industry don ’ t broaden their view to include complementary alternatives soon , lithium batteries could set us on course for a future energy system no cleaner , no more equitable and no more sustainable than what we have today .
LOOKING BEYOND LITHIUM As it stands , the energy industry views lithium-ion batteries as a key enabler of the renewable energy revolution . However , while lithium is already playing a large and growing role in decarbonisation , the challenges that the technology presents cast reasonable doubt on the sustainability of a single-technology approach .
It is time we asked the question as to whether the focus on lithium in the short-term risks the longterm environmental and economic sustainability of the energy transition – especially when we consider just transition principles .
To shift to a more regenerative economy , we must look beyond lithium and consider other resources which can provide a long-term , future-proof , affordable solution . This will be essential for the energy transition and help countries and businesses achieve their mid-century net-zero targets .
Vanadium flow batteries ( or VFBs ) are emerging as a leading option for the future of energy storage . Unlike lithium-ion , they use multiple states of vanadium to store and release energy in a waterbased electrolyte containing vanadium salts .
VFBs can fully discharge into the grid , every day over decades of service , while maintaining their original capacity . This makes them ideal for absorbing power from intermittent solar , wind , and tidal sources then delivering that power on demand , and means a VFB-supported electric grid can deliver clean power with the economics , flexibility and reliability that is the cornerstone of our domestic , commercial and industrial energy system .
These batteries are also highly recyclable . The vast majority of components can be recycled using widely available existing processes , and the vanadium electrolyte itself is 97 per cent recyclable , according to a recent study .
Vanadium flow batteries can operate effectively in hot climates , meaning they can be deployed to serve the electric grid in many countries in the developing world without requiring the addition of expensive , power-hungry cooling equipment .
Unlike lithium-ion batteries , they are also fundamentally non-flammable , meaning they do not require auxiliary fire suppression and HVAC systems and making them more appropriate for use in residential or environmentally sensitive areas .
While accelerating the decarbonisation of the electric grid is a worthy goal , the benefits of vanadium flow batteries can extend to communities at the margins of our current energy system .
Invinity is currently delivering a vanadium flow battery to a fire station run by the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians in Southern California . The battery will help mitigate the impact of grid outages caused by wildfires on emergency services and the local community .