Iron-Flow Battery Maker Behind Massive US Project Starts Work On Australia Factory

US long duration energy storage developer ESS has broken ground on a manufacturing facility it is building in Queensland as part of a strategic regional partnership with Energy Storage Industries, announced in August.
ESS, which earlier this month signed up to deliver a massive 200MW/2GWh iron flow battery system in the US city of Sacramento, comes to Australia at a time of huge and increasingly urgent demand for long-duration energy storage.
In its deal with EIS Asia Pacific, ESS will initially supply 70 complete 75kW/500kWh Energy Warehouse (EW) iron-flow battery systems this year and next.
At the same time, ESI is building a manufacturing facility in Queensland, that will be used to conduct final assembly of ESS systems from 2024 onward.
ESS says systems assembled at the Queensland plant will use “core component kits” supplied by ESS’s Oregon factory, including battery modules, proton pumps, and other unique components.
Once complete, the Australian assembly plant is expected to reach a production capacity of up to 400MW of energy storage a year.
Cheap and abundant core ingredients
Like other flow batteries, the chemistry and technology used by ESS is ideal for long duration energy storage duration up to 12 hours, and flexible in terms of where it can operate, geographically.
The company says it’s also comparatively safe and stable compared to some other chemistries – non-toxic, with a 25-year lifespan without capacity fade. Hot climates are ideal – and it says there’s no fire danger.
Where ESS’s technology becomes, perhaps, more competitive than other flow batteries – vanadium, for example – is in its core ingredients: earth-abundant iron, salt and water.
“That is a pretty great starting point from where you can drive the ingredient prices down,” says Dresselhuys, speaking to RenewEconnomy at the All-Energy Australia conference and exhibition in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“We still have a lot of work to do as we scale up and to do design optimisations and drive cost out of the system.
“But as a [business] model, our current long-term price outlook is better than anybody’s, and not very volatile.
“As we say in the industry, our cost entitlement is really good, because it’s very low-cost ingredients, so you can get to very low cost-points over time,” he says.
“And you can do that without having a undesirable trade off around toxicity.”
Setting up shop in Australia
Another advantage of EES iron flow batteries is that most of the components are readily available and sourced, so spreading manufacturing – or at least assembly – to places like Australia, makes sense.
“Everything that we need to build the battery can be sourced in Australia now,” says Dresselhuys.
“But the model we’re doing with ESI is that we’re building the battery modules and some of our systems … in the States and we ship those down.
“And then the whole balance of plat on all of the systems – the containers, the pumps, the hoses, everything else; the electrolyte itself – can all be sourced here in Australia.”
“We’ve had the first shovels of dirt up in Queensland for the factory there,” Dresselhuys says, adding that the company’s plan is to have the local assembly facility up and running by the end of 2023.
“We will be doing projects throughout this year [in Australia and the region] where the product will still be coming from the US… but the goal is that by the end of next year that plant will be operational.”
Dresselhuys says that the recent spate of Australian state and federal government announcements around energy storage are great news for the market, but cautions that this is only a first step in the sometimes unnecessarily complex process of getting energy storage done.
“Second step should be a part of the budgeting process and … the regulatory review process – what are the policies we have to change?,” he tells RenewEconomy.
“Because there’s no silver bullet to it. It’s more like silver buckshot. It’s 100 little things you’ve got to do to make the whole thing happen.”