From pv magazine USA
EnerVenue, a nickel-hydrogen battery startup that launched at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last summer, has signed a distribution agreement with Towngas, Hong Kong’s first public utility and one of the largest energy suppliers in greater China.
Just after the company’s launch, CEO Jorg Heinmann outlined how finding large, anchor customers like Towngas quickly would be paramount to the company’s success. With this first major goal realized, pv magazine invited Heinmann to discuss how his California-based company has evolved in its first year.
“We know the technology works,” he said, adding that much of the underlying tech risk has been addressed. Engineering and operational challenges remain to be overcome in order to scale up manufacturing, “but we’re way out of the ‘science project’ mode,” he said,
Part of the science project was finding a way to cut battery costs. Nickel-hydrogen has proven to be a powerful energy storage technology for the aerospace industry for quite some time, but has always been held back from greater commercial use due to its high price.
Finding new materials to substitute for more costly traditional components was a breakthrough for EnerVenue, according to Heinmann. The costliest component to be replaced was platinum.
When theorizing about what expensive components could be replaced, Heinmann and the team expected to register a hit in battery performance. But the opposite has proven true, and Heinmann asserted that not only do the newly designed batteries perform significantly better than earlier versions, but they are being manufactured with “magnitudes” of cost reduction per battery.
Cost reduction and anchor customers like Towngas form the two prongs that Heinmann believes will help EnerVenue to overcome its biggest obstacle: the advantage of incumbent lithium-ion batteries. Although Heinmann declined to get into customer specifics, he said that the company is working on a number of projects to demonstrate their batteries on a large scale, as well as hammering out agreements for more anchor customers.
The Towngas deal represents a vote of confidence not just in nickel-hydrogen battery technology, but in EnerVenue as a company able to provide effective and cost-competitive storage solutions. It’s a confidence that Heinmann said he hopes will be recognized by other potential anchor customers that EnerVenue is pursuing.
As for meeting the product demand these large customers will bring, Heinmann said he is confident in his technology’s ability to scale.
“It’s designed for super-easy manufacturing and super-easy assembly,” Heinmann said. Expectations are that the manufacturing, tooling, and capital expenditure cost will be about one-fifth of that for equivalent lithium-ion capacity.
Heinmann credits the scale of the cost reduction to the simplicity of the battery itself, referring to it as a “stack of electrodes.” The design also makes possible features EnerVenue believes will give it an edge over lithium-ion in the long run: a 30,000+ cycle without degradation lifespan, an optimal operating temperature range from -40° to 60°C (-40 to 140°F), no fire or thermal runaway risk, no toxic materials, and easy recycling at the end of the battery’s life.
“We found a huge number of ways to get cost out of this thing, and that’s all engineering cost reduction,” said Heinmann. “That gives us huge confidence in achieving our business plan and scaling fast.”
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This nickel hydrogen seems like a step in improvement over Li-Ion. But nickel is in high demand for nickel manganese cobalt type Lithium-ion cells. Since the demand for nickel exceeds supply, it puts upward pressure on prices. And with the batteries being the most expensive part of the systems, it’s a major issue for battery systems. So far, the LFP batteries have been the solution for fixed systems where light weight isn’t necessary. But transportation needs a lot of nickel cells, so demand stays high. What we need is to mine a meteor that’s mostly nickel and iron. But since that’s not possible, there needs to be exploration for nickel in nodules that are said to be lying on the ocean floor.
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