HOLLAND — A lakeshore company has received $200,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy to advance the development of utility-scale energy storage.
Jolt Energy Storage Technologies LLC, founded in 2014, seeks to reduce the cost of battery storage to accompany the growth in renewable energy anticipated in the coming years. For solar and wind power to be viable at a widespread scale, storage is needed when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, officials say.
“We’re trying to reduce the cost of storage to make it economically viable for utilities to pick renewable energy,” said Tom Guarr, Jolt’s co-founder and chief technical officer.
Jolt’s technology differs from conventional batteries that package components and rely on materials like lead, cobalt, lithium and manganese. Instead, a flow battery stack and control system regulates materials stored in external tanks that are passed through electrochemical cells.
Guarr likened the concept to a car that uses gasoline stored in a tank for an engine that produces power as you accelerate. The vehicle’s range is determined by the size of the gas tank. In Jolt’s case, the electrochemical cells act as the engine.
Whereas high-density lithium-ion batteries can be placed in cars and other compact uses, battery stacks are meant for stationary sites that can be expanded. Guarr says this is an efficient way to scale up with utility-scale projects and send power to the grid.
“If you need to quadruple the amount of energy you store, you only need to build bigger tanks,” he said. “It’s very inexpensive to scale up.”
The organic materials used in the process are being developed at Michigan State University’s Bioeconomy Institute in Holland, where Guarr is the director of research and development.
Jolt researchers have tested the chemistry of the technology and have built a battery prototype. They are now into the design phase of the battery stack and control system and hope to have a pilot installation in late 2020. Proving the technology on a pilot scale could lead to commercialization, Guarr said.
An increasing number of utilities across the U.S., including Consumers Energy, have announced aggressive clean energy goals in the coming decades to reduce the effects of climate change. This will require a large-scale build out of renewable energy, but utility officials also say advancements in clean energy technology are needed to accompany the growth.
Michigan utilities have started pilot programs to test the potential of battery storage, but have said it’s too expensive to deploy widely. Guarr agrees cost has been the biggest barrier for energy storage.
“In many areas, the cost of generating electricity with solar and wind is lower than with a natural gas plant,” he said. “The problem is it’s not always there when we flip the switch. (Utilities) aren’t going to do (storage) unless it makes economic sense. We’re trying to help that equation.”