They are joined by dozens of other companies trying to achieve this. What makes Sun Catalytix stand out in the competition is its chemical structure, cheap materials, and low overall market prices.
The startup company is now designing a small-scale five-kilowatt prototype which will take a different approach to the conventional battery. They estimate a full-scale model to be just a little under $300 per kilowatt hour which is less than half the cost of a sodium-sulfur battery. A major reason for this, says CEO Mike Decelle, “We’re sourcing some of this stuff really, really cheaply in ton quantities [from China] right now.” “That’s where you’ve got to source and [where you will find] the kind of quantities you need,” he says.
The chemical components and structure of the battery are also worth noting. A traditional flow battery contains a metal that is dissolved in a liquid electrolyte. The liquid passes through to a separate tank to create an electrical current, and is passed back through to charge the battery. Sun Catalytix’s design however, uses square plates made of a carbon-plastic composite. The electrolytes pass only through the plates which saves on the cost of wiring.
The chemical component of the battery is both cheap and safe. Sun Catalytix’s electrolytes are made from metals combined with ligands, which are molecules that bind to metal atoms. This allows for more flexibility of design and makes it safer. Traditional batteries contain dangerous metals that can corrode pipes and cause a serious health hazard if spilled. However, the active materials in Sun Catalytix’s batteries are dissolved in a near-aqueous solution that makes it safe in case of a spill.
Though Sun Catalytix is going up against other companies, Decelle thinks they will have an advantage due to their safety precautions. They intend to test a full-scale battery in 2015 with their $16.5 million in investments and more money on the way. This new flow battery will not only be an efficient way of storing renewable energy, but it will also be affordable and safe.