To support the creation of renewable energy, which generates electricity at certain times of the day and less at others, the grid needs a lot of batteries. While lithium-ion works fine for consumer electronics and even electric vehicles, battery startup EnerVenue says it has developed a breakthrough technology to revolutionize stationary energy storage.
The technology itself – the nickel-hydrogen battery – isn’t really new. In fact, it has been used for decades in aerospace applications, to power everything from satellites to the International Space Station and the Hubble Telescope. By the time Stanford University professor (and now EnerVenue president) Yi Cui determined a way to optimize the material and reduce cost, nickel-hydrogen had become too expensive for terrestrial applications.
According to EnerVenue, nickel-hydrogen has several major advantages over lithium-ion: it can withstand super-high and super-low temperatures (so no need for an air conditioner or thermal management system); It requires little or no maintenance; And it has a very long life span.
The technology has caught the eye of two giants in the oil and gas industry, energy infrastructure company Schlumberger and the VC arm of Saudi Aramco, which together with Stanford University have raised $100 million in Series A funding. The investment comes nearly a year after EnerVenue raised $12 million in seed. The company plans to use the funds to increase its nickel-hydrogen battery production, including a Gigafactory in the US, and has a manufacturing and distribution agreement with Schlumberger for international markets.
“I spent about three and a half years before EnerVenue looking for battery storage technology that I thought could compete with lithium-ion,” CEO Jörg Heinemann told Nerdshala in a recent interview. “I had essentially given up.” Then he met Cui, who through his research had managed to bring the cost down from about $20,000 per kilowatt hour to $100 per kilowatt hour – a jaw-dropping reduction that puts it on par with existing energy storage technology. . .
Think of a nickel-hydrogen battery as a type of battery-fuel cell hybrid. It charges by building up hydrogen inside a pressure vessel, and when it discharges, the hydrogen is reabsorbed into the water, Heinemann explained. One of the key differences between the batteries in space and the EnerVenue being developed on Earth is the materials. The nickel-hydrogen battery in orbit uses a platinum electrode, which Heinemann said accounts for 70% of the cost of the battery. Legacy technology also uses a ceramic separator, another high cost. EnerVenue’s key innovation is finding new, low-cost and earth-abundant materials (though not the exact ingredients they’re sharing).
Heinemann also indicated that an advanced team within the company is working on a different technology breakthrough that could reduce costs even further, to the extent of about $30 per kilowatt hour or less.
They are not the only benefit. The EnerVenue battery can charge and discharge at different speeds depending on the needs of the customer. This can range from a 10-minute charge or discharge to as slow as a charge-discharge cycle of 10-20 hours, though the company is optimizing for about 2 hours of charge and 4-8 hours of discharge. EnerVenue’s batteries are also designed for 30,000 cycles without experiencing performance degradation.
“As renewable energy gets cheaper and cheaper, you have a lot of time of day, let’s say, a 1-4 hour window of free electricity that can be used to charge something , and then it has to be sent faster or slower depending on when the grid needs it,” he said. “And our batteries do really well.”
It is worth mentioning that this round was funded by two companies that are big in the oil and gas industry. “I think it’s almost 100% of the oil and gas industry that is now largely moving to renewable energy,” Heinemann said. “They all look to the future, as the energy mix is changing. We’re going to be 75% renewable by the middle of the century, with most thinking it’s going to happen sooner, and they’re based on studies that show the oil and gas industry.” They did it. They see it and they know they need a new play.”
Don’t expect nickel-hydrogen to appear on your iPhone anytime soon. The technology is big and heavy – even with as little done as possible, a nickel-hydrogen battery is still around the size of a two-liter water flask, so lithium-ion is certainly a future. will play a major role.
Stationary energy storage may have a different future. EnerVenue is currently in on-site “late-stage” discussions and partners to produce one gigawatt-hour of batteries annually for a United States factory, with the goal of eventually scaling back even beyond that. Heinemann estimates that the tooling cap-X should be just 20% of the lithium ion per megawatt hour. Under the partnership with Schlumberger, the infrastructure company will manufacture the batteries separately and sell them in Europe and the Middle East.
“It’s a technology that works today,” Heinemann said. “We’re not waiting for a technology breakthrough, we don’t have a science project in our future that we have to achieve to prove something. We know it works.”