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EPIC Symposium Showcases Alternative Energy Storage Technologies



A panel of researchers and business leaders at the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) symposium discussed how improved storage technology could help speed the state’s transition to a clean energy future.

The Feb. 19 event at the Sacramento Convention Center drew more than 800 people, including industry leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs. The symposium showcased projects funded through EPIC, an energy innovation funding program established in 2011.

Lithium-ion batteries are the market leader in energy storage technologies, driven largely by the growth of consumer electronics and electric vehicles. However, the batteries rely on materials with future supply issues, has a history of thermal management issues, and does not have a documented long-term performance history beyond five years. These issues raise concerns about whether lithium-ion is the best fit to meet the all expected global demand for energy storage.

California must diversify energy storage options to help create a smarter grid, said Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives at the University of California, San Diego.

“I can’t emphasize the importance of research and development,” Washom said.

Moderator Edward Randolph, deputy executive director of energy and climate policy at the California Public Utilities Commission, asked panelists how their technologies provide an alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

Eos Energy Storage offers a zinc hybrid cathode battery under the trademark name Zynth. Zynth is an aqueous, zinc-based battery technology that is nonflammable, fully recyclable and cost effective, said Philippe Bouchard, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Marketing for Eos.

Eos received Energy Commission funding for two energy storage projects. The location for the project that tests a distribution level application has not been determined, while the project for a residential and small commercial application will be tested at UC San Diego.

Bouchard said the EPIC program funds made a difference in the technology growth for his company.

“With the support, our concept and prototypes have developed into manufactured products that will continue to improve the way California stores energy,” he said.

Sulfur is a byproduct of oil refineries. Molten sulfur can be used for thermal energy storage, help reduce fuel waste, and is cheaper than lithium-ion batteries, said Richard Wirz, chief scientist and co-founder of Element 16.

In 2012, the Energy Commission funded a project involving Wirz and his team at UC Los Angeles that demonstrated sulfur as a low-cost thermal energy storage fluid, which proved to be effective and durable, he said.

Rick Winters, CEO of UniEnergy Technologies, talked about his company’s vanadium flow batteries, which outlast and outperform the leading lithium technologies that degrade 15 to 20 percent over a year. Flow batteries use aqueous electrolytes that are non-flammable and non-reactive with water, making it safer than lithium-ion batteries, which have caused fires, Winters said.

Laurence Abcede, manager of distributed energy resources at San Diego Gas & Electric, discussed a vanadium redox flow battery storage project at the company’s San Miguel Substation in South San Diego County. The demonstration project, which is a collaboration with Sumitomo Electric and New Energy and Industrial Technology Organization (NEDO), is testing the technology for its ability to enhance grid reliability, integrate more renewable energy and increase flexibility in grid operations.

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California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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