Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

24 October 2019

Vanadium player seeks cash, cryogenic store ups market pressure

Why does lithium ion get all the grid battery plaudits, where there are so many other potential technologies entering the market. This week we see yet another Vanadium Flow player in Canada’s Cellcube, struggling financially, despite a huge pipeline of activity, showing that in storage it is important to be part of a large financially secure group, rather than focusing purely on innovative products.

Toronto based CellCube issued a “corporate update” which effectively said that its CEO Stefan Schauss would drop down to run the manufacturing arm, Enerox, in Austria while a new interim CEO is appointed for the group in the form of Brett Whalen, moved from Chairman. The company is up for sale or any other way forward for its Vanadium Flow grid battery.

Cellcube has a history of 140 project installations and a 12 -year operational track record, but has perhaps overreached itself. It tried to operate globally through subsidiaries and distributors, as well as buy out mining resources in the US for mining Vanadium.

That mining activity cannot currently be funded, and the manufacturing focus has switched to its 4th generation product, and a deal with a large re-insurer, Munich Re, was cut in the Summer in the hope that more deals would be bankable. But so far, they have not materialized.

Vanadium Flow batteries rely on a there being multiple oxidation states for Vanadium and an ion flow can be created as part of the electrolyte moves between one state and the next. It’s only disadvantage is its relatively large physical size over lithium, but it is exceptionally stable, not prone to sudden thermal runaway, the current weak spot of Lithium and it offers stable power outputs throughout its range, whether full or almost empty and can manage an almost unlimited number of recharges, compared to the 10,000 that lithium boasts.

Currently it operates on $250 per kWh LCOE with a two years pathway to $100 or so for a fully containerized system, complete with inverter.

Cellcube earlier this year said that in order to go down that LCOE pathway it had to take full control of its production costs including a source of Vanadium through its own mines, and it begin making its own electrolytes.

The company says it is close to completing several large-scale contracts once production capacity can be afforded to adequate levels, but says that deal flow in the summer was not what it should have been, despite constant interest from energy storage markets in the US, EMEA, and APAC regions. Currently it is losing money every month and has looked for investors, and so far, found none. It said in a statement, “Until the company can produce and execute projects with a consistent number of units, the company will continue to be in a monthly working capital deficit position.”

One way of raising money was to spin out its V23 Resource which owns the Vanadium mines but after this was agreed, the deal foundered due to spot prices of Vanadium falling from $25 per pound down to $10 per pound.

The company now says it is “reviewing strategic alternatives,” focused on maximizing shareholder value which is likely to mean a sale or merger of the company.

In the past UK firm RedT, another Vanadium Flow energy storage business, also ran into financial difficulties, which it only managed to solve by a £3 million share offer, followed by a reverse takeover of US, Delaware based Avalon, contingent upon which a cash injection of £24 million was supposed to happen, which we understand is not yet complete.

Meanwhile also in the UK, another rival battery technology this week has moved a step closer to coming to market with Highview Power, and the cryobattery we told you about in March. It has a new demo planned on an old fossil fuel site, after initially building its proof of concept on a waste dump.

The full scale “liquid air” battery will have a capacity of 50 MW and over five hours release 250MWh of energy. Highview now says its cryobattery could come down to a cost of £110 per MWh once it gets it up to 200MW capacity, so four times this current level. The prior installation was just a 5 MW affair on a landfill site in Bury, Greater Manchester, with £8 million of funding.

As in Germany, where the government is actively looking for renewable energy systems which run on old coal plants, the Highview system will run on a decommissioned coal plant.

Earlier this year we also talked about Highview Power and its partnership with Spanish TSK engineering group to co-develop gigawatt scale, long duration, energy stores using Highview’s proprietary cryogenic energy store technology. It is the type of deal that Cellcube would be delighted with.

The two companies identified Spain, the middle East and South Africa for such services and said they were chasing €1 billion in 1 GWh chunks by 2021 – but TSK has the money and resources to support it through the ramping period.

The Bury plant was used for grid balancing and as a Short Term Operating Reserve (STOR) for the grid to support winter peaks. But really these larger systems will need more ambitious projects, preferable stabilizing a whole host of renewables, helping them look like baseload for the grid.