WattJoule, Further Boosting Flow Battery Commercialization, Seeks More Funding

WattJoule Corporation announced it has entered into an exclusive, worldwide intellectual property licensing agreement with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) last week that will allow for the full commercialization of the company’s groundbreaking energy storage technology.

The company, which develops next-generation flow battery energy storage systems, thought to be a leader in grid storage applications, developed the storage technology over the past three years with funding from the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, the Office of Naval Research; and the National Science Foundation.

WattJoule is overcoming the significant cost barrier by basing it’s product platform on the flow battery concept of storing electricity in a liquid, in this case one that is water-based and cheap to produce in large quantities. It is also licensing and developing a mix of critical patent-pending technologies that will slash energy storage cost to $150 per kilowatt hour in its first generation product.

“This technology allows us to practice high-power, high-efficiency operation that enables low-cost energy storage across a number of chemistries,” said Greg Cipriano, VP Business Development and Co-Founder of WattJoule.

The “heart” of WattJoule’s new redox flow battery is a “greatly improved” electrochemical cell, which can produce 10 times more power per volume than commercial flow battery systems, Cipriano said.

“This high-power operation significantly reduces the amount of expensive material needed and this dramatically reduces cost” he said. “It also enables greater dynamic power range, which opens up a large spectrum of applications for one product platform that no other company can provide.”

 WattJoule Receives Venture Capital Investor Feedback

In late September, Dr. H. Frank Gibbard, CEO and Co-Founder of WattJoule, pitched their product to a panel of investors at Future Energy Boston, hosted by Ultralight Startups. The company is looking for a consortium to invest alongside its unnamed lead investor, he said.

“Imagine for a minute if you had our problem of how to store 80,000 times the amount of energy in a laptop computer battery” Gibbard said. “How would you do it? Our solution is the best solution that I have come across in 30 years in the battery industry.”

Gibbard explained how the system worked, adding that the biggest benefit is cost reduction. He said it is three times less expensive than the lithium ion batteries powering laptops and some electric vehicles, adding that flow batteries are the best way to store large amounts of energy at the lowest cost.

“Of all the flow batteries out there that you can choose,” he said, “WattJoule’s is the best. Quantitatively, 600% better power density, 100% better energy density, 110% larger operating temperature range, 800% larger range between maximum and minimum operating power. And these all lead to a 65% reduction in system costs.”

Gibbard said he expects WattJoule to be generating revenue through product sales by 2016, creating what he called a “perfect storm” between product availability and early market demand. He said the companies customers are large electric system integrators, such as ADB and Siemens.

Gibbard said WattJoule’s economic advantages include a product platform with a large market application space and a 10 to 1 Manufacturing CapEx advantage for scale up.

After his pitch, Gibbard fielded questions and heard feedback from the panel.

“While, obviously, you are making dramatic improvements in flow batteries and power density, have you thought about what is your first target market?” asked Eric Bielke, senior investor at Siemens Venture Capital.

Gibbard pointed to microgrids as its first target market, adding that time-of-use programs would be a “little further out.” He said WattJoule is also keenly interested in renewables, because its unnamed lead strategic investor is in the business of wind and solar energy.

Rob Day, a partner at Black Coral Capital, questioned how many flow battery startups and manufacturers currently existed. Gibbard estimated about 10, including those in China. Day, who thought that estimate was low, then asked how many were successes. Gibbard conceded that none have been commercial successes, but he added that the WattJoule system’s cost performance will give it a significant edge over its competitors.

Henrik Holland, venture principal at Shell Technology Ventures, wanted to know who would make money in WattJoule’s value chain. Gibbard said WattJoule’s customers who are going to be system integrators would makes money, and the firm would as well by selling the system with a minimal capital expenditure, offering “modules” that customers can add to their existing systems.

Holland also wanted to know if WattJoule had already produced a working system. Gibbard said it was demonstrated at the “laboratory scale” and performed well.

Offering feedback, Matthew Nordan, vice president at Venrock, said his concern with the system was reliability, rather than power or energy density. He recommended WattJoule look at existing systems to learn from their experiences. Bielke similarly had a concern about reliability, also suggesting WattJoule should go out and “find examples of what went wrong” in other system deployments, such as those by AES and Xtreme Power.

“What went wrong besides the fires,” Day interjected, generating some chuckles from the audience.

“I have to say our batteries do not explode; they do not burn,” Gibbard shot back.

Other Recent Flow Battery Developments

GE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory lab are developing a new water-based flow battery for electric vehicles, announced in August. Grigorii Soloveichik, who leads the project and serves as director of the GE-led and Department of Energy-funded Energy Frontier Research Center, says that the batteries could be 75 percent cheaper than car batteries available on the market today and multiply current EV driving range. “The DOE wants a battery that can power a car for 240 miles,” he says. “We think we can exceed that goal.”

Imergy Power Systems, a maker of rechargeable flow batteries, formerly known as Deeya Energy, hired former LED maker Bridgelux honcho Bill Watkins as its new CEO in November, lured over by Ira Ehrenpreis of Technology Ventures Corporation, its lead investor. Imergy is also backed by NEA, BlueRun Ventures, DFJ and Element Partners. Imergy has 50 batteries installed throughout India and is now developing larger systems that can be used to maximize power output from renewables like solar and wind, as well as applications for commercial customers like data centers, according to an article in the Mercury News. With a new chemical combination using vanadium, a liquid electrolyte, Imergy is setting out to cut the price of its batteries by around half to reach $300 per kilowatt hour by 2015, so reports Forbes.

MIT spin-off Sun Catalytix Corp. received $4 million in July from five unnamed investors and is seeking to raise $12 million in total for its flow battery for grid energy storage that uses custom materials derived from inexpensive commodity chemicals. It projects that a full-scale system, which it expects to make in 2 years, will cost under $300 per kilowatt-hour. The company previously received $9.5 million in Series-B funding in 2010 from Polaris Venture Partners and Tata Group and a $4 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Primus Power entered into an R&D contract to deliver two 250 Kilowatt energy storage systems in the Puget Sound Energy (PSE) territory in June, partnering with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Its zinc bromine flow battery system won $2 million from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program plus $11 million in private follow-on funding in 2011.



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