Around The World With StorEn, Riding A Vanadium Flow

A Stony Brook startup’s whiz-bang energy-storage technology is doing its thing in Australia – first stop on what’s shaping up as a global energy-efficiency tour.
StorEn Technologies is speeding toward commercialization of its vanadium-flow battery tech, conceived and created by a team of immigrant scientists: CEO Carlo Brovero, CTO Angelo D’Anzi, Senior Engineers Gianluca Piraccini and Maurizio Tappi and advisor Gabriele Colombo are all Italian nationals who pursued their vanadium-flow dreams to America.
A big step in the commercialization process is a big-time demonstration in the Land Down Under. Two years ago, the 2017 startup announced plans for a government-sponsored welcoming ceremony at the Queensland University of Technology, followed by factory-based production of StorEn’s proprietary batteries – but the global coronavirus pandemic threw a monkey in the wrench.
Flash forward two years, and the ceremonious welcome and the full-on production remain on COVID-induced hold. But StorEn’s breakthrough battery – delivered to Queensland University on-schedule and ready in January 2020 – has been doing what it’s built to do, impressing observers in a rigorous shakedown at the Queensborough-based National Battery Testing Centre.
Brovero, who noted the battery “[sat] in a crate at the university for months” due to the pandemic, said the device – which uses vanadium ions in different oxidation states to store chemical potential energy – is now meeting and exceeding expectations in its high-profile trial run, which marks the first vanadium-flow exercise anywhere in Australia.
The testing phase is scheduled to wrap up in the coming weeks. And it’s no accident that it’s happening in Australia, according to Brovero, who noted a fresh Aussie focus on technology exports.
“The whole idea is that Australia is trying to move away from exporting minerals and get into exporting technology with their minerals inside,” the CEO said. “They’re trying to export the value-added products.”
“Value-added” could be StorEn Technologies’ middle name. Batteries leveraging vanadium-flow technology have existed for a while and are used extensively by major industry – but those batteries are too big for smaller industrial uses, and way too big for residential applications.
Intent on introducing the tech to a variety of new markets, Brovero et al are working to incorporate state-of-the-art nanotechnologies and develop prototypes better suited to smaller-load end users, including residential uses.
Their work has continued unabated throughout the pandemic – a bit of serendipity for the four-year-old startup, according to Brovero, who said his company found itself in the right place during this very wrong time.
“We have been lucky, in a way,” he noted. “We’re still working on engineering and development, and we’re not heavy into manufacturing yet.”
Enter Stony Brook University’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, the university’s tech-heavy “incubator without walls.” StorEn, a multiyear CEBIP client, might have gone off the rails during the global health crisis, according to Brovero, if not for the program’s steady hand.
“CEBIP helped us keep up our research work throughout (the pandemic),” he said. “Our access to [Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center] laboratories and facilities continued as before, and we have been able to keep our payroll and cost-structure very tight.”
Bolstered by the SBU programs, StorEn has made significant progress through the teeth of the pandemic, particularly over the last six months. Among other things, Australian project partner Multicom Resources has received a federal government qualification that allows it to access a government fund for projects “with strategic significance for Australia,” Brovero noted.
Meanwhile, the Stony Brook-based company recently closed a sale with the University of Calgary in Canada, where a cutting-edge battery-storage laboratory will put the vanadium-flow tech through its paces.
The University of Calgary battery is slated to be delivered in June, with funding from the Canadian federal government’s Innovation, Science and Economic Development division pending. StorEn is also exploring a possible deal with a Brazilian university, according to Brovero, and may have identified its next international destination: Africa.
After attending 2020’s Power Africa Summit (in Miami) and the virtual Africa Mini-Grids Summit this past February, company officials are convinced that tremendous opportunity awaits on a continent where an estimated 600 million people live without basic electricity services.
“There are a lot of communities in Africa, hundreds of millions of people, that do not have access to an electrical grid,” Brovero noted. “Building a grid is not an option, because they are such remote locations, and sparsely populated – so the electrification of Africa has to be through solar, plus batteries.
“This serves a true social purpose,” he added. “Not only selling batteries, but really contributing to the social and economic development of these communities.”