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Tuesday, 04 September 2012 10:42

MAREC supports study of new battery tech

Written by  Joe Boomgaard and Elijah Brumback
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MUSKEGON — Critics of renewable energy correctly point out that the wind and sun inconsistently produce energy.

In essence, what’s been lacking is a way to efficiently store energy generated from those renewable sources. But early stage research at the Grand Valley State University Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon shows promise in developing a long-term battery storage system.

MAREC recently started working with Paul Rasmussen, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Michigan and founder of Ann Arbor-based Vinazene Inc., which has patented intellectual property that lends itself to be used in so-called redox flow battery technology.

Redox batteries function somewhat like a fuel cell, but derive energy from the flow of a liquid, said Rasmussen.

The technology shows promise for land-based stationary energy storage projects, but would be too large to work for transportation applications, Rasmussen said.

Vinazene developed a new active material that works in the flow process of the battery. The company received $150,000 SBIR Phase I grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to attempt to prove the feasibility of the new material for charging and discharging the battery.

“We have come sort of out of left field with a new material,” Rasmussen said. “The challenge with something that’s really new is that you need to work the kinks out. We’re preparing new materials that haven’t existed before, so we’re looking for improvements and doing a lot of synthesis and testing.”

The company works out of a lab in a Plymouth, Mich.-based startup incubator, but recently connected with MAREC after learning the center wanted to research flow batteries.

“They have the business-experienced people, the technology people who are interested in redox flow batteries,” Rasmussen said. “They have a good balanced team working with me.”

Working with MAREC, the company aims to submit an application for SBIR Phase II funding, which is due Dec. 11, he said. Phase II would allow the company to develop prototypes and test run demonstrations of its technology.

“The technology is capturing the attention of a lot of people in the renewable energy sector,” said Arn Boezaart, director of MAREC. “In this system energy is stored indefinitely. The potential of it relates really well to wind and solar power.”

With the ability to store wind and solar power reliably and efficiently, the alternative energy market could see a more level playing field in terms of costs in the competition with coal and oil, Boezaart said. The technology favors a more distributed energy model where homeowners, individual companies or even business parks could operate off independent systems. However, the technology still has long way to go before it’s ready for commercialization, he cautioned.

MAREC first got interested in flow battery technology after representatives from GVSU were introduced to the work happening at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology in Germany. Boezaart said MAREC started conversations about collaborating on research after a March event during which Gov. Rick Snyder sought to forge more ties between Michigan universities and the institute.

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