Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lithium Technology to Launch a Li Ion Battery Manufacturing JV

Lithium Technology Corporation (ticker symbol:LTHU), a manufacturer of large format cylindrical lithium-Ion cells, has entered into a definitive agreement to launch a joint venture with EnerSys, Inc. (NYSE:ENS) in Germany to produce large format lithium-ion based cells.

EnerSys will lead the joint venture in cooperation with GAIA Akkumulatorenwerke GmbH (GAIA), a unit of LTC. The joint venture will include LTC's contribution of certain intellectual property, and its low volume lithium-ion cell manufacturing capability located in Nordhausen, Germany. LTC will continue to have full access to the Nordhausen facility, its production capability, employees and intellectual property. It is anticipated that the joint venture will commence operations and production on October 17, 2011.

LTC, through its GAIA subsidiary, and EnerSys have had a distribution agreement for the past three years. This joint venture will expand the relationship between the two companies. A new company has been formed, EAS Germany GmbH, which will further the development and production of lithium-ion based solutions for space, naval, marine, renewable energy, and specialty high power applications for EnerSys. The JV will also continue to provide certain products to LTC for its customers in the transportation sector. LTC, through its ownership stake in EAS, will benefit from the market success of EnerSys' global marketing and sales network.

Most LTC customers will continue to deal with LTC as before and see no change to their existing relationship with the company; however, they will benefit from the industrial expertise EnerSys brings to the joint venture. The joint venture allows LTC to focus its efforts on developing its capabilities in the passenger and heavy-duty transportation markets. The intellectual property license to EAS is limited to products manufactured within the Nordhausen facility.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Financing for Crescent Dunes Solar Thermal Project Completed

SolarReserve, a U.S. developer of large-scale solar power projects, has closed financing for the 110 MW Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project to be built near Tonopah, Nevada. The Crescent Dunes project will the nation's first commercial scale solar power tower with fully integrated energy storage, the largest of its kind in the world, according to the company (artist's rendition shown).

The project is being constructed on federal land operated by the Bureau of Land Management. In November 2010, Interior Secretary Salazar signed the project's thirty-year right-of-way and approval to construct. Construction commenced earlier in September and the project is expected to start operations in late 2013.

As part of the project financing, SolarReserve is joined as investors in the project by ACS Cobra, which is focused on the engineering and construction of power plants and thermal solar facilities, and the equity capital practice of Santander. The project also closed on $737 million in project debt along with a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. ACS Cobra's Nevada-based affiliate, Cobra Thermosolar Plants Inc., will act as the general contractor utilizing Nevada and regional subcontractors to perform the work.

1. Sunlight is concentrated and directed from a large field of heliostats to a receiver on a tall tower. 2. Liquid salt from the cold salt tank is pumped through the receiver where it is heated to 1050F. 3. The heated salt from the receiver is stored in the hot salt tank. 4. Hot salt is pumped from the hot salt tank through a steam generator to create steam, which drives a steam turbine, generating electricity. 5. Cold salt at 525F flows back to the cold salt tank.
 The proposed facility will use concentrating solar power (CSP) technology, and be equipped with an integral storage system. The technology generates power from sunlight by focusing energy from a field of sun-tracking mirrors called heliostats onto a central receiver. Liquid salt, which flows similar to water when melted, is circulated through the receiver, collecting the energy gathered from the sun. The heated salt is then routed to an insulated storage tank where it is stored with minimal energy losses. When electricity is to be generated, the hot salt is routed to heat exchangers to produce steam used to generate electricity in a conventional steam turbine cycle. The salt is then sent to the cold salt storage tank, ready to be reheated by the sun and reused the following day. The salt storage technology was demonstrated successfully at the U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored 10-MW Solar Two project near Barstow, California.

European Association for Storage of Energy Launched

A group of Europe's leading players in the energy sector, including manufacturers, utilities and academic bodies, came together in Brussels on September 27 to sign the formal constitution for the creation of the European Association for Storage of Energy (EASE). This international non-profit association is focused on acting as a coherent voice to promote the roles of energy storage as key enabling technologies for Europe's transition towards a sustainable, flexible and stable energy system.

The 13 founding members of EASE are Alstom, DONG Energy A/S, EDF SA, EnBW AG, Enel S.p.A., E.ON AG, GDF SUEZ SA, Hitachi Power Europe GmbH, KEMA BV, RISO DTU, RWE AG, Saft SAS, and Siemens AG.

According to the group's announcement, EASE has been created to provide a single, coherent body of competence and influence that brings together the many diverse groups currently working in the energy storage field. Its main aims are to stimulate the development of innovative energy storage technologies and applications through building a platform for the sharing and dissemination of knowledge and information, and to coordinate national activities. Consequently EASE will act as a sound and visible advocate of energy storage in Europe.

The group notes that effective energy storage can deliver a number of strategic services both on the regulated and deregulated side of the power business, addressing three major challenges: balancing demand and supply, management of transmission and distribution grids, energy efficiency. "In a world where patterns of energy supply and consumption are changing rapidly, especially with the large increasing penetration of renewable energy sources and distributed generation, sustained increases in fossil fuel prices, changing market regulations and stringent environmental targets, there is a considerable pressure on stakeholders to evolve to meet these new demands," EASE notes in a press release.

The founding members have designed EASE as a truly European entity, complementary to the existing European Industrial Initiatives (EIIs) in the frame of SET-Plan and to some Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). The SET-Plan covers a number of relevant areas especially Wind, Solar Energy, Smart Grids, Green Cars, Smart Cities and Efficient Buildings initiatives.

The group said that EASE represents all European participants active in the energy storage arena (but also said it is now looking for new members). It will promote and support analysis and evaluation of the benefits of utilizing energy storage in the broader energy grid. It will also cooperate with other national and international energy storage organisations, including Electricity Storage Association (ESA) in the USA.

EASE will work on technology- and application-related aspects of energy storage such as assessment of storage applications and development of storage technology roadmaps as well as addressing financial, economic and regulatory issues. It plans to work with all relevant groups to discuss and 'ease' the optimal integration of all components into validation projects and business models for a successful transition to a low carbon, safe and sustainable energy infrastructure, and to help establish a coherent master plan for the introduction of energy storage worldwide.

The creation of EASE results from an initiative of the European Commission, looking for a consensual vision of the roles, technologies and potential applications of energy storage within the frame of EU Energy and Climate policy. Following on from an Energy Storage Task Force launched by the European Commission in 2009 and the results of the final workshop, a group of leading European energy players decided to work together to found the new association.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Paper Battery Company Wins NYSERDA Award

The Paper Battery Company (Troy, NY) received a $1 million award from The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to continue development of a fully printed energy-storage device that is as thin as a piece of paper. NYSERDA's funding will be matched by the company and private investors.

Paper Battery is a three-year-old company located at the Russell Sage College INVEST Incubator. It has designed an ultracapacitor that it claims to be thinner than any product currently in production. The firm's first product line is called the PowerPatch, which is a patternable device, scalable in voltage, energy and power in a single package. The device uses a cellulose-based material to contain and separate the various components, and its thinness and flexibility allows it to fit around the confines of tightly-packed electronic equipment. It also integrates directly into system structural elements such as printed circuit board layers, reducing component count and opening new applications for power distribution and management.

Ultracapacitors are energy-storage devices that give off short bursts of energy and, in one application, are used by computer manufacturers to provide emergency power to allow equipment to finish processing and save critical data changes in the event of a power outage or other problem. The technology also has a variety of clean-energy applications, including hybrid electric cars (for rapid acceleration and regenerative braking), flexible solar panels, and other products that require high power and long charge/discharge cycle lives.

"Ultracapacitors serve a vital role in the clean-energy economy, and Paper Battery's product design make it unique in this growing market," said Francis J. Murray Jr., President and CEO of NYSERDA. "NYSERDA is proud to invest in a company that sits at the exciting intersection of nanotechnology, advanced materials and energy storage." Paper Battery's design captures 30 percent more energy than other ultracapacitors, according to Shreefal Mehta, the company's President and CEO. The product is also safer for the environment because it uses less metals than energy storage devices currently being manufactured. "Thanks to NYSERDA's funding, the company will be able to retool print stations and build a pilot line in order to meet customer requests for samples," said Mehta. "This funding will allow the company to position itself for scaling to commercial production, growth and job creation."

The company, which currently employs four people, expects to hire up to 10 new employees by this time next year, with plans to start commercial manufacturing in 2013. In terms of business strategy, the goal is to positive cash flow by 2015 through direct sales to OEMs as on-board integrated power modules. According to an executive summary on the company's website, technical discussions and tests are ongoing with market leading OEMs. A co-development R&D contract has also been signed with a leading medical diagnostic device company for wearable diagnostic sensor patches. Development partnerships for large consumer portable electronics and for specialty military and medical markets will be explored with commercial partners. The production and technology platform will mature with partnerships for large volume consumer markets (>$500M/yr) and larger format structural sheeting energy storage in transportation and grid applications, according to the company.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Massive Demand for Lithium Ion Batteries Says IHS

The expected proliferation of electrical smart grids during the next decade will generate nearly $6 billion worth of demand by 2020 for lithium ion batteries used mainly in energy storage systems, according to the IHS iSuppli Rechargeable Batteries Special Report. From its starting point in 2012, the market for lithium ion batteries in smart grids is set for rapid growth, as presented in the figure below.

Worldwide revenue from sales of lithium ion batteries for smart grids will surge to $5.98 billion in 2020, up by a factor of more than 80 from $72 million in 2012.

"Smart grids require rechargeable batteries to adjust to fluctuations in demand and to optimize the delivery of electric power throughout the system," said Satoru Oyama, principal analyst for Japan electronics research for IHS. "With their inherent advantages compared to alternative technologies, lithium ion batteries are uniquely suited for use in smart grids. Because of this, lithium ion is set to emerge as the dominant rechargeable battery technology for electrical smart grids during the coming years."

Smart grid energy storage comes in multiple form factors, ranging from single-home systems to a cluster of homes or a building, to uninterruptible power systems for corporate information technology (IT) operations, to large-scale systems used by grid operators. Energy storage is used for purposes running from grid stability to backup power for IT, to extending wind and solar energy capture into the evening, the report notes. An advantage to lithium ion batteries is that they maintain full capacity even after a partial recharge. Furthermore, they are considered to be more environmentally safe than other battery technologies.

Beyond smart grids, lithium ion batteries are employed in a wide range of applications, including mobile handsets, notebook PCs, tablet computers, and hybrid and electric vehicles.

IHS defines a smart grid as a utility electricity delivery system that employs computer and communications technology to improve the flexibility and efficiency of power distribution. In conventional power grids, power flows just one way, going from large-scale power generators to users. Smart grids, in contrast, can accommodate and control electricity that is generated both by big utilities and by individual consumers and businesses. This makes smart grids a key element in utilizing and redistributing the energy generated by solar systems installed by electricity users. Development of smart grids is being spurred by various government initiatives throughout the world. For example, the United States has budgeted $4.5 billion for the purpose. Meanwhile, China is expected to become the largest smart grid market in the world, with $586 billion set to be invested in the electrical power supply infrastructure during the next 10 years.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

First U.S. Grid-Tied Solar Energy Storage Goes On-line

The nation's first solar storage facility that is fully integrated into a utility's power grid is now online.
The PNM Prosperity Energy Storage Project, located south of the Albuquerque International Sunport near Mesa Del Sol, can produce 500 kilowatts of power and uses high-tech batteries to create firm and dispatchable energy derived from a renewable energy source. It is the first of 16 smart grid projects partially funded by stimulus monies to be fully operational.

Using 2,158 solar panels, 1,280 advanced lead-acid batteries, smart grid technology and sophisticated metering and monitoring technology, the storage system can automatically smooth the output of the solar panels, making the renewable power more dependable. For example, when a cloud casts a shadow on the solar array, energy output immediately is reduced. The battery and smart grid system work in tandem to instantaneously dispatch energy to fill the gap created by the cloud. In addition, the system can store solar power -- or energy produced by other facilities connected to the PNM grid -- when demand is low. During times of peak customer use, the system then can dispatch the power back into the grid to support demand.

"While PNM has three solar facilities online and two more in the works, the batteries and technology supporting this project create a reliable solar energy resource and can produce power when the sun isn't shining," said Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM president and CEO. "Without an energy storage component, renewable energy is a limited resource that needs to be backed up by traditional generation facilities. Although this technology is in its early integration stage and additional research and development is needed, the PNM Prosperity Energy Storage Project is a significant first step toward making renewable energy reliable energy."

U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who serves as chairs of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, U.S. Department of Energy representatives and state and local officials are scheduled to speak during a dedication of the facility on Saturday, Sept. 24.

"New Mexico has great potential to be a top producer of solar energy for our country. One key to that success will be our ability to harness solar power for use when the sun is not shining," said Sen. Bingaman. "I applaud the Department of Energy, PNM, and the Electric Power Research Institute for advancing this storage effort, and hope that it will be the first of many similar projects around the country."

U.S. Senator Tom Udall echoed those sentiments, saying, "New Mexico is a leader in renewable energy and smart grid technology, and I congratulate PNM for their success on this project which will help lower the costs and increase the use of renewable energy in New Mexico and across the country."

The genesis of this project began in 2008 when PNM and the Electric Power Research Institute began planning a project to demonstrate smart grid technology in PNM's distribution system. When the U.S. Department of Energy announced its Smart Grid Storage Demonstration Program supported by funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, PNM and EPRI quickly reshaped their plans and submitted a proposal to federal officials.

Sen. Bingaman strongly supported the PNM-EPRI proposal in a letter to DOE officials, saying the project "would unlock numerous benefits to the people of New Mexico and the citizens of the United States, including green job creation, development of green manufacturing, and sustainable renewable energy development."

In November 2009, PNM announced it was among the utilities awarded federal funds for a smart grid project, now known as the PNM Prosperity Energy Storage Project. The project features one of the largest combinations of battery storage and photovoltaic energy in the nation and involves extensive research and development of smart grid concepts with EPRI, East Penn Manufacturing Co., Northern New Mexico College, Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico.

"Our goal is to identify, test and demonstrate the numerous benefits derived from this storage system," said Steve Willard, a PNM engineer and the project's manager. "While construction of the project is completed, our research has just begun. During the next two years, we'll constantly collect data and share our findings with the industry worldwide to help advance energy storage technology."

Other New Mexico companies that had significant contributions to the project include Albuquerque's SCHOTT Solar, and Cameron Swinerton and Positive Energy, both based in Santa Fe.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Saft Opens Advanced Battery Plant in Florida

Saft America opened a factory in Jacksonville, Florida, that will produce advanced lithium-ion batteries to power electric vehicles and other applications. Saft expects to produce 370 megawatt hours of battery power a year – the equivalent of supplying more than 37,000 electric-drive vehicles.

Saft America Incorporated’s Industrial Battery Group won a $95.5 million DOE grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 and provided an additional $95.5 million in cost share to build the new 235,000 square foot battery factory capable of manufacturing high quantities of lithium-ion cells, modules, and batteries.

This project is part of the Recovery Act’s $2 billion investments in battery and electric drive component manufacturing, supporting 20 battery and 10 component manufacturing factories. At full scale, these investments will support factories with the capacity to supply more than 500,000 electric drive vehicles. These factories are helping build a domestic electric-drive vehicle industry – the U.S. produced less than 2 percent of the world’s batteries in 2008. By the end of 2012, it is estimated that the U.S. will have the capacity to produce 20 percent of the world’s advanced vehicle batteries. These factories are also lowering costs. By 2013, these factories will help cut battery costs in half, making electric-drive vehicles much more affordable for Americans. Additional DOE investments in R&D will continue this type of innovation well beyond 2015, providing a long-term path for a competitive industry.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Aquion Raises $30 Million for Sodium-Based Battery

Aquion Energy, Inc., a developer and manufacturer of batteries and energy storage systems, closed a $30 million round of venture financing. Foundation Capital led the round with participation from returning investor Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as well as new investors Advanced Technology Ventures (ATV) and TriplePoint Capital.

Aquion Energy, Inc. is a Pittsburgh-based company that is designing and manufacturing a revolutionary type of battery based on the research of Carnegie Mellon University Professor Jay Whitacre, who has developed a novel, sodium-ion, aqueous electrolyte battery (Whitacre is now the chief technology officer at Aquion).

Whitacre's U.S. patent filing gives some background into why it's an attractive energy storage solution.

Small renewable energy harvesting and power generation technologies (such as solar arrays, wind turbines, micro sterling engines, and solid oxide fuel cells) are proliferating, and there is a commensurate strong need for intermediate size secondary (rechargeable) energy storage capability. Batteries for these stationary applications typically store between 1 and 50 kWh of energy (depending on the application) and have historically been based on the lead-acid (Pb-acid) chemistry. Banks of deep-cycle lead-acid cells are assembled at points of distributed power generation and are known to last 1 to 10 years depending on the typical duty cycle.

While these cells function well enough to support this application, there are a number of problems associated with their use, including: heavy use of environmentally unclean lead and acids (it is estimated that the Pb-acid technology is responsible for the release of over 100,000 tons of Pb into the environment each year in the US alone), significant degradation of performance if held at intermediate state of charge or routinely cycled to deep levels of discharge, a need for routine servicing to maintain performance, and the implementation of a requisite recycling program. There is a strong desire to replace the Pb-acid chemistry as used by the automotive industry. Unfortunately the economics of alternative battery chemistries has made this a very unappealing option to date.

Despite all of the recent advances in battery technologies, there are still no low-cost, clean alternates to the Pb-acid chemistry. This is due in large part to the fact that Pb-acid batteries are remarkably inexpensive compared to other chemistries (<$200/kWh), and there is currently a focus on developing higher-energy systems for transportation applications (which are inherently significantly more expensive than Pb-acid batteries).

The Aquion sodium battery works like this:

The charge/discharge processes of the battery is based the transfer of sodium (Na) cations between the active cathode electrode material and the anode electrode, with a Na cation containing electrolyte acting primarily as an ionic conductor between the two electrodes. That is, the cation concentration in the electrolyte stays relatively constant through a charge/discharge cycle. As the system is charged, cations in the electrolyte solution are adsorbed onto the surface of the anode material. At the same time, cations deintercalate from the active cathode material, thus keeping cation electrolyte concentration roughly constant through the charging process. Conversely, as the system is discharged, cations in the electrolyte solution intercalate into the active cathode material. At the same time, cations desorb from the surface of the anode material, thus keeping cation electrolyte concentration roughly constant through the discharge process.

The patent goes on to describe the unique approach that's embodied in the Aquion sodium battery:

The highly-purified solvent-based non-aqueous electrolytes that must be used in energy storage devices, such as batteries, supercapacitors, or hybrid-energy storage systems, is a source of expense. Highly purified solvent-based non-aqueous electrolytes are typically necessary in Li-based systems because Li-ion systems are designed to have a relatively high operating potential, typically between about 3.3 and 4.2 V. Such high operating potentials are problematic for aqueous systems because water is electrolyzed at -1.3 V, so non-aqueous (i.e., solvent-based) electrolytes that are stable to >4 V are needed. This results in several undesirable consequences. First, the conductivity of these solvent-based electrolytes is much lower than water-based electrolytes, so Li-ion batteries are either significantly rate limited, or must be fabricated in such a way that they have very thin porous electrodes. Usually the latter design is selected despite being a much more complicated design with high surface area current collectors, very thin roll-coated electrodes, and a large-area polymer separator. Much of the cost associated with state of the art Li-ion batteries is a result of this design paradigm. Second, the cost of handling and fabrication is elevated since a moisture-free environment must be maintained during battery assembly. Third, a controlled moisture-free fabrication environment is required, which also increases cost and complexity.

In contrast, embodiments of the present invention provide a secondary (rechargeable) energy storage system which uses a water-based (aqueous) electrolyte, such as a Na-based aqueous electrolyte. This allows for use of much thicker electrodes, much less expensive separator and current collector materials, and benign and more environmentally friendly materials for electrodes and electrolyte salts. Additionally, energy storage systems of embodiments of the present invention can be assembled in an open-air environment, resulting in a significantly lower cost of production.

Secondary (rechargeable) energy storage systems of embodiments of the present invention comprise an anode (i.e., negative) electrode, an anode side current collector, a cathode (i.e., positive) electrode, a cathode side current collector, a separator, and a Na-ion containing aqueous electrolyte. Any material capable of reversible intercalation/deintercalation of Na-ions may be used as an active cathode material. Any material capable of reversible adsorption/desorption of Na-ions and can function together with such an active cathode material and an appropriate electrolyte solution may be used as an anode material.

Aquion says that its unique technologies and products provide "compelling" results on key performance factors including cycle/calendar life, round trip efficiency, discharge abuse tolerance, capital costs, maintenance costs, and safety. In addition, Aquion batteries are inherently green and contain no hazardous materials, corrosive acids or noxious fumes.

“Energy storage applications, particularly at grid-scale, provide enormous market opportunities for companies with truly enabling solutions,” said Steve Vassallo of Foundation Capital. “We see Aquion’s novel energy storage technology as a game-changer in several key markets and are delighted to be part of their world-class team.”

“The Aquion team is committed to changing the way the world uses energy by delivering safe, reliable, and economical energy storage solutions,” said Scott Pearson, Aquion’s CEO. “We are very excited about our new investment partners and the assistance, both financial and operational, they can provide the company as we launch our first products and begin to scale the company globally”.

In the fall of 2011 Aquion will begin shipping its first pre-production energy storage systems to external testing facilities and selected strategic partners. In addition, Aquion is currently in the process of identifying and selecting an appropriate site for its first high volume factory in the United States. This manufacturing facility is expected to become operational in 2013 and create more than 500 jobs across a wide range of employment categories.

Coincident with this financing, Steve Vassallo of Foundation Capital and Bill Wiberg of ATV have joined the Aquion board of directors. Prior to this round, Aquion had been supported with funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and the U.S. Department of Energy.