All systems flow: StorEn batteries in critical test phase

Flow chart: If the science of vanadium-flow batteries escapes you, don't worry -- the big brains at StorEn Technologies get it, and they're working to bring it home.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

In an energetic example of Stony Brook University’s science-commercialization system firing on all cylinders, university researchers are getting into the vanadium flow – testing a prototype battery with unprecedented energy-storage capabilities.

A vanadium flow battery developed by Stony Brook-based clean-gen company StorEn Technologies is being put through its paces by Unique Technical Services, a 2012 launch spun out of SBU’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center. Wielding an array of engineering tools and techniques, UTC is conducting simulations, field tests and other analyses to determine if StorEn’s next-gen battery is the next-wave commercial and residential energy source its creators predict.

The battery testing – including reviewing the “process for validating its applications” – will continue through March under the watchful eye of the AERTC. It has developed “under the guidance” of several Albany-sanctioned partners and programs, according to SBU, including the Rochester Institute of Technology’s New York State Pollution Prevention Institute and three distinct SBU programs: the AERTC (a state-funded Center of Excellence), the Clean Energy Business Incubation Program and the Center for Integrated Electric Energy Systems.

Rechargeable vanadium-flow batteries, which use vanadium ions in different oxidation states to store chemical potential energy, have been proven out: The batteries already exist throughout major industry, used primarily as backup power sources.

But those batteries are big – too big for residential or light-industrial uses. Leveraging cutting-edge nanotechnologies, StorEn’s primary focus is on smaller, condensed prototypes suitable for smaller-load markets, including light commercial and residential applications.

Upon completion of the current testing round, the RIT’s pollution-prevention institute is expected to issue a comprehensive technical and environmental-impact report, and anticipating a glowing assessment, StorEn is already looking forward to its next steps, including a likely fundraising round.

In charge: Stony Brook-based StorEn Technologies has its eyes on a new residential clean-gen power source.

Noting a potential 25-year lifespan, a non-flammable water-based electrolyte power source and other benefits, StorEn Chief Technology Officer Angelo D’Anzi said the battery was ready for its closeup – and the company, an Italian startup pulled into SBU’s commercialization orbit by the university’s myriad research and business-development programs, was ready to roll.

“We are happy to conduct this validation program … to demonstrate the technological advancements achieved with our first-generation design,” D’Anzi added. “Vanadium flow batteries are a proven technology … our R&D focused on building upon these proven characteristics to enhance the electrical performance of vanadium batteries as a strategy to reduce cost, and on reducing their environmental footprint.”

By qualifying as 100-percent recyclable (even the electrolytes are reusable), the batteries even lend themselves to landfill and mining reductions – proof positive of the disruptive breakthroughs that can result when SBU’s myriad resources come together, according to AERTC Chairman and energy industry veteran Bob Catell.

“The collaborative efforts between all parties involved with the validation of this promising and innovative flow-battery technology represents how multiple New York State programs can work together with industry for the benefit of our incubator companies,” Catell said in a statement, adding such collaborations help those early-stage companies “achieve credibility and ultimately commercial success.”

Particularly intriguing about this particular collaboration is the participation of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s anti-pollution institute, known alternately as NYSP21. The institute’s independent analyses are considered an important milestone throughout the state energy-incubation system – a final exam, of sorts, for up-and-coming tech like StorEn’s bite-sized vanadium flow battery.

“The validation of emerging-energy technologies is a key program and focus for NYSP2I,” noted program Director Charles Ruffing. “We are pleased to work with Stony Brook and StorEn in this prototype evaluation, which will provide valuable information for future prototype development and commercialization.”