Arnhem company in the Netherlands introduces dirt-cheap battery for large-scale and long-term storage By: Sabine Sluijter Arnhem-based Elestor has developed a hydrogen-bromine battery that can store large amounts of sustainable electricity for a long time. The battery is also potentially dirt cheap. Oil giant Equinor and tank storage company Vopak have already invested 30 million and Ørsted is also interested. Renewable energy is clean, but not always available. When the wind is blowing hard and the sun is shining, we often already have too much, resulting in low or even negative electricity prices. And when it is cloudy and there is no wind, we have too little and fossil power stations have to fill the gap. These peaks and troughs in energy supply are becoming increasingly extreme and longer-lasting as we build more solar and wind farms and phase out fossil energy. We are only in 2022, so the effects are still very limited. But the consequences will be many times greater in the coming years. The revenue model for batteries is hidden in this volatility of the supply: You charge the battery when the electricity is very cheap, and add the stored electricity to the grid when the price is much higher. If the costs for storage are low, it can be profitable. Storing electricity for a long time - at low cost - is therefore becoming increasingly important. There is a diligent search for such solutions worldwide. But many techniques are too expensive for this specific purpose or not yet available on a commercial scale. That may soon change. Because Elestor from Arnhem is introducing a new type of battery that works on bromine and hydrogen. The company recently raised 30 million euros from major investors including the Norwegian energy giant Equinor, tank storage company Vopak and the investment fund Invest NL. Dirt cheap The special thing about the battery is that it is potentially dirt cheap. Because it works on hydrogen and bromine, it does not use the precious lithium. “Lithium is becoming increasingly scarce and therefore more expensive,” says Guido Dalessi, CEO of Elestor. “If you want to get to very low storage costs per kilowatt hour, you have to start with materials that are cheap.” In addition, many of the materials used in existing batteries are only sourced in a limited number of countries, which entails geopolitical risks. “Those countries can create artificial scarcity among themselves. If we are not careful, we will soon have a LIPEC after OPEC.” The Elestor battery is not affected by this because bromine can be found all over the world. It is obtained, among other things, as a by-product of salt extraction from seawater. “There are about 100 billion kilotons of bromine on Earth. In 2050 we need about 500 terawatt hours of battery storage. If we did all that with our batteries, we would only use 1 thousandth of a percent of the world's supply,” says Dalessi. Battery on hydrogen pipeline The materials on which the technology runs are not only cheaper. They also enable new applications. The Elestor battery consists of two large tanks containing hydrogen on one side and bromine on the other. In between is a membrane stack where the chemical reaction takes place. The system is actually an electrolyser and a fuel cell in one device. “The battery produces hydrogen during charging and we collect that in one tank. During discharge, the battery uses that hydrogen again to make electricity,” says Dalessi. The hydrogen is currently still stored in large tanks. Last year, Elestor signed a contract with Vopak for the construction of a large battery in the port of Vlissingen. But instead of a tank, Elestor can also connect the battery to a hydrogen pipeline. “We then put in extra hydrogen when the battery charges and extract the same amount of hydrogen when it discharges. That is unique in the world, no battery can do that,” says Dalessi. This allows the company to play an important role in the hydrogen economy. “These are not wild ideas,” says Dalessi. “We have analyzed this completely together with Austria's largest energy company. This shows that this can reduce the costs of hydrogen production by at least 30 percent.” Long lifespan So the battery has several options. In addition, the battery has a long life: no less than fifteen to twenty years. During that time it can charge and discharge 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition, the full capacity can be used, while with its lithium brothers that would result in a shortened lifespan. Although the comparison is obvious, the lithium battery is not necessarily a competitor of the 'flow battery', Dalessi emphasizes. “Lithium is the perfect solution for anything portable and mobile, but not economical for long-term and large-scale storage. That is now only happening because Lithium is immediately available, not because it is the right technology.” The Elestor battery is very suitable for economically bridging longer periods of five hours to a week. Large amounts of energy The hydrogen-bromine battery is most suitable for storing large amounts of sustainable energy. This is possible in ports, where the electricity from offshore wind farms comes ashore. But also at a solar or wind farm on land. The system always works in the same way: at times when there is a lot of supply and the price is therefore low, the battery charges. At times when there is a shortage and the price rises, it can supply power back. The more extreme and longer the differences in power supply, the more lucrative this will be. In that case, it makes a lot of difference to the revenue model what the storage itself has cost, but Elestor is on the right side there. There is therefore no lack of interest in the battery. Solar and wind farm developers are eager for storage options. For example, Elestor already has a partnership with the Danish energy company Ørsted. But first the production costs of the battery have to come down, because that is still much too high: about 50 percent more expensive than lithium. But that will soon change, predicts Dalessi. "Eventually it will be a quarter of the price of lithium." Pilot factory The capital injection of 30 million will help with this. This is intended to reduce the complexity of the battery and to further reduce costs through serial production. Next year, Elestor will start building a pilot plant in Arnhem. In addition, the company is already working on the next generation together with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and oil company Shell. “Because you should never think that you are already there.”
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However, the crux of the hydrogen fuel problem is not an economic one, but a physical one. If the main objective is to achieve carbon neutrality by developing green and renewable energy sources, having a high round-trip efficiency should be the only criterion for energy carriers. Hydrogen cannot hold most of the energy after all the stages of manufacturing, and it will never be comparable to rechargeable batteries without addressing this physical problem.