Vanitec – 2nd Energy Storage Meeting (Part 3)


4 July 2017

Coffee Break – Fortune got halfway to the coffee machine before being surrounded by a gaggle of BMN shareholders (I wonder if the poor guy ever manages to get sustenance at these events) – myself, Valiant100, paul and of course Gambitxjs, who I see had already raided the LSE board for topical questions.

First – an easy opener from Gambitxjs – was Vametco able to use acid from the rest of their processes for possible production of electrolyte – Fortune said that this might be possible but that with all the precious metals processing that went on in the area there was no difficulty in obtaining acid in South Africa.

I think that it was then that Fortune brought up the subject of Yellow Dragon, before anyone else had even mentioned it – he said that we should not worry about Yellow Dragon – with a tone of “this will all work out, you will see”.

Then Gambitxjs or Valiant100 mentioned the 30p share options that Fortune had – Fortune looked confused so I prompted him – “the 30p options that were part of the incentive scheme” – he still looked confused – oh no that never happened, I don’t have any of those options – it was mentioned around the IPO at 20p but it didn’t happen.

The Facebook page for Vametco alloys was also mentioned – and the 4 or 4.5 stars which had been given to it – something which Fortune was pleased to hear about – “I must have a look at that” he said.

VRB/VRFB promotion – Vincent Algar of Australian Vanadium

Vincent (chair of the Vanitec Energy Storage Committee) led a discussion on the subject of how Vanadium producing and VRFB manufacturing companies might collaborate more strongly on social media promotion – building the VRFB big picture and reinforcing each others messages to compete with the already established Li-ion juggernaut.

There was some discussion about everyone agreeing on what terminology should be employed – some people refer to VRB’s, some to VFBs, some VRFBs and some to Vanadium Redox Energy Storage Systems. Someone mentioned that some people had been prevented from using the term VRB and Terry Perles explained  it had been trademarked by a Canadian VRFB manufacturer.

I mentioned in the Q&A that we should perhaps use the terminology that Barak Obama had used back in 2011 …

… but doh ! I forgot that he had actually made a mistake by calling them Fuel Cells  – as any fule know; a fuel cell converts chemical energy in fuel to electrical energy but a battery can also convert electrical energy back again to chemical energy and repeat it many times over . Batteries are definitely what we’re about !

Sumitomo Electric Industries were present, and with the longest history of producing VRFBs, were encouraged to be a little more outgoing in the presentation of their existing operational data – many people marketing VRFBs agreed that it would help to have the long term performance of VRFBs more visibly promoted.

New Potential Sources of Vanadium from Non-Traditional Sources – Michael Grimley of GSA environmental

Michael described how fly ash that is the residue left from the burning of heavy fuel oil can contain 1-2% of Vanadium, similar amounts of Nickel and the rest is carbon left from incomplete burning. This material can not simply just be reburnt – as the heavy metals would attack the lining of any furnaces – at present this material is put into land fill when it needs to be carefully managed to prevent leakage of the metals into the groundwater. Also the ash comes in the form of a rather fine dust and is easily blown about the place when being handled as waste.

Michael pointed out that up to 100,000 tonnes of such an ash are produced each year on the east coast of Saudi-Arabia and a similar amount in Canada – thus potentially perhaps 3,000 tonnes of V2O5 might be derived from these sources. It was not clear to me how far away from production such a process was, or whether it was in production already – also it was not clear to me what the production cost would be. I suspect that unlike processing mined material with a similar concentrations of Vanadium already in V2O5 form that it is not possible to take advantage of relatively cheap concentration techniques based on physical properties. In the case of fly-ash processing I suspect that the Vanadium is bound up in some chemical form that needs significant chemical processing – and that this is, or will be, relatively expensive.

The vanadium derived from Venezuelan oil production, mentioned by Terry Perles in the first  presentation, would appear to be a very similar secondary source of Vanadium production – evidently Venezuelan oil is particularly high in Vanadium impurities – and that this production can only be made cost effective if V2O5 prices go above 8-10 USD/pound. I’m not saying that this will not happen, but with primary Vanadium resources (eg Mokopane) being lined up to potentially feed a VRFB revolution the structure of the Vanadium supply side may well be somewhat different in the future to what it was in the past.

Vanadium in Advanced Energy Technology Applications – Luis R. de Jesus and Justin L. Andrews of Texas A&M University

Luis from Texas A&M University (TAMU) opened by pointing out the unusual chemical and quantum properties of Vanadium that give rise a wide range of different oxide compounds and crystalline structures. He then moved onto the idea that structural phase transitions can occur between these different crystalline structures depending on conditions – eg temperature or metal doping.

Temperature can be used to switch between different structural states in some Vanadium Oxides – and this property allows the concept of a thermochromic window to be developed.

Courtesy of Luis de Jesus and Justin Andrews, Texas A&M University

At normal temperatures (Cold = 30-45 deg C) the oxide layer on the window passes both the Visible light (under 800nm wavelength) and the longer infrared wavelengths (greater than 1000nm wavelength) which allows infrared heat to pass through the window.

Once the temperature becomes hot (50 deg C plus) the oxide on the window changes structure into a form that still transmits the visible reasonably well but preferentially cuts out the infrared. Think of it like reactolite sunglasses, but for windows, and for heat.

Why does it matter – because as Luis pointed out 40% of the energy consumed in Mumbai is used for space cooling and by 2050 up to 27% of all global warming will be due to coolant gases (presumably due to both CO2 created when generating the power to run cooling circuits and also emission of the gases in those systems, due to leakage or decommissioning.)

Justin then took up the story – describing the use of Vanadium oxides in the construction of (wait for it) Li-ion batteries.

Courtesy of Luis de Jesus and Justin Andrews, Texas A&M University

As you can see from the slide there is rather high capacity for the storage of Lithium ions in Cathodes made of Vanadium Oxides – think of the Vanadium Oxide structure as a sponge which allows the relatively small Lithium ion to diffuse into its structure – albeit that the Lithium ion in the cathode ‘sponge’ experiences a different environment  – this is what gives it a different potential to the lithium that is still left on the other side of the battery (the Anode) and what allows the structure to work as a battery.

The problem is that although conventional layered V2O5 (remember that’s actually the stuff that we dig out of the ground in the Bushveld complex) can store a lot of Lithium in the gaps in the V2O5 crystal lattice it doesn’t happen instantaneously quickly and the lithium runs into bottlenecks that limit the rate at which the battery can charge and discharge.

Remember what was said above about different structures of Vanadium oxide – guess what – it is possible to create a different form of V2O5 which is thermodynamically stable.

Courtesy of Luis de Jesus and Justin Andrews, Texas A&M University

This structure would appear to have a more open arrangement which could improve the lithium diffusion rate – or as shown in this example allow Lithium to be replaced with Magnesium – a much more abundant element. The central image above shows an SEM picture of the actual atomic structure whilst insets a and b show mesoscopically patterned structures intended to increase diffusion through the overall battery structure.

My comment – from our perspective it would be most rewarding to contemplate that developments aimed at improving Li-ion technology have actually ended up using Vanadium and replacing the Lithium with Magnesium. However such a battery would probably use much more Vanadium to store each MWh than present VRFBs do – so from a commercial standpoint it has, err, some issues.

Whilst I congratulate the TAMU group for their fascinating research the slide above also illustrates exactly the high level of processing that needs to be employed to create environments for storing metal ions in different energy states in a solid state battery. Compare this with the complete lack of anything that has to be done when creating the corresponding environments in a VRFB electrolyte – no solid state deposition or processing, no mesoscopic patterning, no nano-engineering – you just mix the solutions and you are done.  This is why I like VRFBs – there is very little to go wrong when making them.

Concluding Remarks

Vincent Algar of Australian Vanadium wrapped up the meeting with some thoughts about how Vanitec might aid collaboration within and between the Vanadium production and VRFB manufacturing communities and how it would be beneficial to work collaboratively on social media to extend the reach of a Vanadium and VRFB oriented network. You can start this by following him on twitter.

The next Vanitec Energy Storage Committee meeting will be on the 10-11th of October in London, and I wouldn’t miss it for all the Vanadium in South Africa.

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