\Deeptech Analysis/

Meet the startup building a sustainable alternative to Tesla’s Powerwall

It is the size of a small fridge, doesn't use unsustainable rare-earth metals, won't blow up and can power your house for 20 years.

By Maija Palmer

A battery that doesn’t blow up, doesn’t use scarce rare earth metals, and can power your house for 20 years — is it possible? VoltStorage, a Munich-based startup, which just received €6m in VC funding, thinks it has the answer.

It is about the size of a small fridge and uses vanadium redox-flow technology to store energy, rather than the lithium-ion batteries that are used for powering laptops and electric cars. NASA is in fact exploring the same technology for future Mars missions, due to its long life, safety and affordability.

VoltStorage, however, is concentrating on applications closer to home, namely, the market for home energy storage, particularly for people wanting to store solar energy.

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“Millions of houses now have solar panels on the roof, so it makes sense to have a battery that can really make use of the energy these generate,” says Michael Peither, cofounder and chief technology officer of VoltStorage.

VoltStorage, founded in 2016, is among a new wave of startups focused on energy storage, alongside Switzerland’s Energy Vault, a gravity and kinetic energy-based storage startup, which raised $110m from SoftBank last year.

The idea for home energy storage has been recently popularised by Tesla’s Powerwall batteries, but these are based on lithium-ion technology, which has a more limited lifecycle. Tesla’s Powerwall generally comes with a 10-year warranty, while VoltStorage’s redox-flow batteries are geared towards 20 years.

Peither began building his first redox-flow batteries in his parents’ basement, because his father wanted to find ways to store the energy from the family’s solar panels. At the time Peither was working electric cars for BMW, and had seen first-hand the teething problems with lithium-ion batteries.

“They were very expensive, and they do blow up,” he says. “I thought, there must be a better way to do this.”

The disadvantage of vanadium redox-flow batteries is that they are very heavy, and thus have tended to be used for very big energy storage projects. VoltStorage has, however, found a way to make the design relatively compact, and easy to install in the corner of the average home. VoltStorage has also developed an automated manufacturing process for the batteries — most other vanadium redox-flow batteries tend to be assembled manually as one-off projects.

This means the price for a battery is around €7,000, in the same ballpark as a Tesla Powerwall.

Engineers assembling a VoltStorage vanadium redox-flow battery
Engineers assembling a VoltStorage vanadium redox-flow battery. Image credit: VoltStorage.

Lighter lithium-ion batteries make sense for portable and mobile uses like laptops and cars, says Peither, but, given that some of the materials used to make them — such as lithium and cobalt — are in short supply and often mined at great environmental cost, it makes sense to look for other types of batteries for bigger, stationary uses.

All the carmakers are scrambling to secure supplies of lithium-ion batteries, and even Elon Musk put out a plaintive call for miners to produce more nickel in a recent post-earnings call with investors.

In contrast, vanadium is the 20th most abundant element in the earth’s crust, and VoltStorage is also working on an iron redox-flow battery, which would have even easier-to-source materials (iron is the most abundant of the Earth’s metals). About half of the company’s 37-strong team work on R&D like this.

Batteries like these could be easily manufactured and sourced entirely in Europe, Peither points out.

“People are always discussing increasing battery production in Europe, but the fact is we don’t have the raw materials here for lithium-ion batteries. Those come from China, South America and Africa,” he says.

If Europe is really to become a powerhouse in the battery field, it will have to look to some of the alternative chemistries like this.

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JoeS
JoeS

The more you use a vanadium flow battery the cheaper it is, the more you use a lithium battery the shorter it lives.

Frank Kecskes
Frank Kecskes

They are all barking up the wrong tree. The future energy storage standard will be supercapictors using abundant and universally plentiful CARBON in the form of GRAPHENE, with no harmful environmental effects…

Damien
Damien

Exactly what I was thinking “What about graphene? It’s way more abundant and the molecular structure is superior.

Baker
Baker

But it’s not here yet and may never in the near future and the cost could make it not viable

Stooch
Stooch

Feel free to start your own company and become rich and successful if it’s so easy and you are such an expert. (though I bet your knowledge is limited to reading a few puff articles on the toilet).

Don
Don

Science to backup the claims? Don’t capacitors quick release energy?

gabriel
gabriel

They also charge very fast so can be used to capture lightning energy.

Shirley Folston
Shirley Folston

Is this available now.

Dielectric
Dielectric

A super capacitor doesn’t store energy so good luck pulling a rabbit from a hat.

Julian Townsend
Julian Townsend

When will these be available?

Luis
Luis

But when is it arriving? 20 years hearing of graphene and no results

robert harris
robert harris

Is Graphene not very expensive,like to expensive for mass production

Mike Longson
Mike Longson

Exactly as the other posters have mentioned. Graphene is for power storage not energy storage therefore not a viable solution for home batteries unless you have massive short term power spikes.

Allan Begg
Allan Begg

The first I heard of this Technology was in Australia before the year 2000.
A a Canadian Company lied to the Australian share holders telling them if they sold their shares to the Canadian company they would list the Canadian Company on the Australian stock exchange.
They bought the shares, but never listed on the Australian stock exchange…I know because I was a shareholder victim.

ben
ben

were can i get redox batterys

Tim
Tim

It would be interesting to know how many watthours that “small fridge” contains? Good luck to them!

NavyBlueSmoke
NavyBlueSmoke

If it is a ” fridge ” ; the only thing that really matters is how many six packs or kegs it holds ! Engineers need to party , once in awhile …..

Jason
Jason

Is alcohol all you can think about?

joresta
joresta

Of course not. Sometimes we think about sex.

DrSmile
DrSmile

Their website gives specs for their refrigerator sized battery. 6.2 KWh energy capacity, cont output 1.5 KW. A Powerwall has 13.5 KWh capacity, and more than triple the output at 5 KW continuous, 7KW peak. Poor journalism here as that is simply not comparable. To run 10KW continuous (your average house) you’d need 2 Powerwalls but 7 of these. This is clearly a fluff piece.

Brian
Brian

I use an average of 170 watts. When I lived in a house with 4 people. In it, we averaged 500 watts. This is in the Dan Francisco Bay area. Gas heat, stove and hot water. Pre LED’s about 2005. I think a family of four all electric could do well on 1 kw average 5kw peak today in aild climate.

paul
paul

I also live in the Bay Area. I’m one person in a 1700 sq. ft. house, use electricity sparingly, all LED lighting, gas stove, electric dryer, and my average daily use is still 10 kWh. One Powerwall with solar covers my needs- unless we have a week of cloudy weather.

Paul W Pease
Paul W Pease

Every day is cloudy there.

Vern Sherwood
Vern Sherwood

No air conditioning in the hot California heat !? Air conditioning would be minimum 24 kW per day for. Small home.

Gwil Harris-Evans
Gwil Harris-Evans

Duh? Here in the south of Portugal with summer temperatures continually in the mid to high 30s I use nothing like that. Total energy use is under 10kw/h/day for the entire year.

Fparent
Fparent

1.5 kw is 12 amps at 120 volts which is the power of an average automatic expresso machine or a hair dryer. Forget running a fridge, your AC or your furnace while drying your hair or preparing your coffee. 1.5 kw is not enough but with additional research they may find ways to increase that.

Ernst, Lopes Cardozo
Ernst, Lopes Cardozo

Unlike Li-ion batteries, in flow batteries the capacity (kWh) and power (kW) are un coupled. Increase the containers for the “flowing” material and your capacity increases. Increase the (number of) cells and the power increases. While the price obviously increases, so it is not yet a competing product, the technology gives is more flexible. It is too early to tell if their production cost can be reduced sufficiently, but it is early days for this product. With half the staff working on R&D, they clearly are not in an at-scale production yet. Let’s see what comes out in a year… Read more »

Librelec
Librelec

Li-ion is also un-coupled in the sense that you can independently increase the capacity or the output, with parallel or series connections of cells?

Librelec
Librelec

No house needs a permanent 10kW to run. Other than the biggest of properties. In Australia, the distribution networks (companies that own the overhead wires, etc) allow for a permanent draw of no more than 3kW per household. Peak is different, but peak only happens for minutes at a time… Perhaps you’re thinking of 10kWh of energy per day? That’s more likely to be true, and through all my experience (electrician, solar/battery installer) is a good “average” for your standard house. Considering the majority of usage can be shifted to day time (offset by solar), the 6.2kWh capacity is within… Read more »

DrSmile
DrSmile

People should look at their watt meter more in their house, I wish Tesla made their monitoring app available for everyone, it really helps in understanding your usage. . The average daily consumption here in NYC is 20 KWh per day. On a 100 degree day it’s pretty common here for a house to use 100KWh of electricity for A/C alone if you have central air. If you have an electric car or electric heat your usage could be even higher than that, and all of those are continuous loads, not peak. Yes of course I agree that we should… Read more »

DatHeatDoh
DatHeatDoh

I used 100kWh yesterday. 3kW? Lmao. 118 degrees here, my AC alone pulls 6kWH. I suppose if your average house is in the colder climates where your summer is a balmy 72 then yeah, you can use less. The desert is unforgiving.

Acme fixer
Acme fixer

The average house doesn’t take 10kW, if it did your electric bill would be enormous. And I’m in America where electricity is used more than other countries. The residential electric bill has three tiers, if you stay in the 1st tier the bill is not unreasonable. If you get into the 2nd tier the cost per kWh goes up substantially. If you get into the 3rd tier your electric bill skyrockets. And you still haven’t come close to the 10 kW “average” that you claim.

DrSmile
DrSmile

You need to look up the difference between peak and continuous power. Peak power is usually measured in seconds (it is for Powerwalls), After that you need to have continuous power capacity. People here seem uninformed. I have a fully off grid capable Solar/Powerwall setup, if you think that one Powerwall is enough well Tesla will disagree with you as they don’t even offer full house backup unless you install 2 Powerwalls. Unless you live in a shed you are going to need 10KW continuous capability with an average sized house in the US.

HundredKilos
HundredKilos

I’m looking at my bill right now. Electricity is cheap. 8 cents per kWh. I used 100kWh yesterday. That’s a whole 8 bucks. times 30 would be $240, which is about right for this time of year. That being said, I do have solar to offset *some* of it so my total was 72kWh @ $6. I’m shooting for a $150 bill this month.

If I was in Texas, it’d be cheaper yet since electricity is deregulated.

Eric Senecal
Eric Senecal

…or you can use Generac PWRcell, which is 17.1 kWh of usable energy, and 9kW continuous power that can surge to 50A. This is hands down the best resi storage solution available.

DrSmile
DrSmile

This system just came to market. The advertising is very misleading because the $9,999 starting price is for a 3 battery module cabinet that only supplies 3.4KW continuous and only offers 8.6KWh capacity. The PWRcell you reference is likely $20,000 before install and more importantly comes without an inverter.

Simon
Simon

I run a house Off grid no problems on 5kw max out put. We have everything you can imagine running . 12 panels and 24 2v fork lift batteries. In our experience It’s cheaper to buy energy efficient appliances than panels and batteries. Energy efficient fridges freezers dishwashers and washing machines are a lot cheaper than expensive batteries

Tom Flaherty
Tom Flaherty

Look enough with the negativity. It’s all hands on deck. My basement does not mind the batteries weight. There is lots of spaces in most North American basements and I can’t even afford a proper home improvement that incorporations lots of cells on my great exposure of good size. So it they win on price and have twice the life cycles they have something.

Good luck to the creative ones.

All the Best,

Tom

lifepo
lifepo

Or you can just buy LiFePO4 at a fraction of the cost and weight. Buy the inverter and you’ll be much further ahead. This “article” is nothing more than a shill advertisement for a no name company with highly misleading numbers to rope in suckers like you.

James
James

Lithium is the 25th most abundant material, and most modern lithium batteries no longer use cobalt. This article cherry picks facts to make Vanadium flow batteries look better than they are.

cacarr
cacarr

Also, is there not a good possibility that Tesla’s wall batteries will be improving *considerably* in the near future, in terms of lifecycle?

NavyBlueSmoke
NavyBlueSmoke

It’s worth noting that if present top tier batteries from Elon’s Tesla Gigafactory have almost unlimited cycle life if charge / discharge cycle optimized for cycle life is followed. A home unit sized at double capacity or larger ( double peak load ) will be capable of almost endless cycles if that charge discharge pattern optimization is in effect. Basically pattern relies upon no extreme rapid discharges & batteries operating in mid 2/3rds of range & abandoning the top off of battery. Keep internal thermal heating to minimal levels by not insisting on the highest voltage at 100% full .… Read more »

Tom Flaherty
Tom Flaherty

Agreed and car packs are only the first life cycle. They are likely to be used as power storage in the second life after doing the high demand work of the transportation sector.

Andrew Hartley
Andrew Hartley

With the development of the million mile battery Tesla batteries will improve dramatically.

Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence

All batteries will improve – including those we don’t yet know about!

Tom Flaherty
Tom Flaherty

I’d bet on improvements. Look to the US NATL called Argonne National Lab Department of Energy.

Watching over the years lots has happened and to this day the anode work shows great promise.

NavyBlueSmoke
NavyBlueSmoke

Yes , cherrypicks facts yet cannot blame lab for wanting a funding source. Perhaps he’ll find a combination of elements that cost little yet work in an application that will benefit the masses. We can encourage him and pray he spends funds on other than my girlfriends, Peaches & Trixie. I will help him by sending sealed test chamber with six monkeys , a ton of bananas , hammers & ball bearings……… productive results are then bound to happen.

Bob Vance
Bob Vance

Totally agreed, also the headline is completely misleading. Sustainable? Do I just believe it? Is it one of those “trust me” facts?

Ian
Ian

Bob, you need to do some research. Google VRFBs. You will find out that the original,patent goes back to 1968 and that they do indeed have indefinite lifespans. The technology is simple and so is the chemistry. They consist of big tanks of electrolyte which any decent lab could knock up, pumps, pipework, and a reactor which has a membrane separating the two halves of the reaction. The electrolyte doesn’t degrade and should it no longer be needed in that application it can Ben drained and used in another battery or easily recycled for use in say the steel industry.… Read more »

Chris S
Chris S

Spot on! For me the biggest issue is the potential for explosions in the domestic setting. VRFBs are already deployed globally and this is is just the start of what will be a disruptive technology that will provide relief from global warming.

somtam
somtam

I wouldn’t touch a lithium battery with a bargepole. It would scare me senseless having a mini bomb attached to my house with my family inside. add to that the degrading issue then it a no brainer that Vanadium flow batteries are the future for this kind of storage

Librelec
Librelec

However all those pumps and pipes are all points of failure.

This isn’t a product that I’d be a first adopter in (and yes, Australia has flow battery companies too, it isn’t exactly brand new stuff)

Rob
Rob

I cant see how a start up company can offer a 20 year warranty when they haven’t gone to market yet. Tesla are much more reliable and will be around to honour any warranty in the event of a failure.

Ian
Ian

There are insurance companies very willing to cover VRFBs.

Alex B
Alex B

Easy because VRFB batteries last indefinitely, where as lithium starts to deplete as soon as you use them resulting in far less shelf life.

Ian
Ian

And is that the reason why both China and Saudi Arabia are presently building VRFB gigafactories? The Saudi one claims annual capacity of 3Gwh per annum.

Alex B
Alex B

Yes in fact the worlds biggest battery 800MWH is a Vrfb in China which is due to go online in the next couple of months.

Alex B
Alex B

I think you will find Vanadium is far more abundant than lithium

Phill
Phill

Vanadium is the 20th most abundant!

Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence

The point is that lithium is more in demand by mobile (moving) applications.

Rennie Allen
Rennie Allen

Lithium is strip mined. It isn’t only cobalt that’s the problem with Li-Ion, but you’re right that for this application a LTO chemistry would make sense, but this only illustrates how dumb Tesla is for using a NMC chemistry (the C is cobalt) for their powerwall.

Vivian Moon
Vivian Moon

The article quotes a VoltStorage battery About €7000, which equates to about $8250. For reference I work for a solar company that charges +$12,000 for the purchase and installation of a Powerwall 2. This is exciting and looks like a much cheaper alternative.

Tracy
Tracy

Could this be used with a wind turbine and solar panel combination

Emanuel Crisp
Emanuel Crisp

Correction: iron is not the most abundant metal on Earth. That would be aluminium.

Rennie Allen
Rennie Allen

…but not in its pure form, but rather as hydrated alumina and isolation of aluminum from that takes far more energy than isolating iron from iron oxides so iron is the most accessible metal on earth.

Stack
Stack

Came here to read the article coz i thought it would be interesting, but found the comments to be more satisfying.

Anil Kumar
Anil Kumar

Incredible innovation 💡

Vivian Moon
Vivian Moon

The article quotes a VoltStorage battery at about €7000. Which equates to about $8,250. For reference: I work for a solar company that charges $12,000+ for a Powerwall 2 installation.

Dudley Stewart
Dudley Stewart

Let’s get started

David Winder
David Winder

7000 euros for how much power?

Manuel
Manuel

Por favor podrían decirlo en español?. Gracias

Scott
Scott

Can I buy one now? If not, when?

I am currently (heh) looking at Tesla’s options, but haven’t been impressed by the life expectancy.

Yours = WANT!

Julian Townsend
Julian Townsend

I think I might be interested in having one of these in my garage where the electricity meter and distribution box is if it could be used to store economy 7 electricity at night. How long could a full charge power a home?

Scientist
Scientist

I found a few things to be considered in this article. Comparison with Tesla powerwall only in lifetime and price, but I bet it stores 5 times more energy although lifetime is half. Powerwall still wins. It’s true the raw materials for Li ion batteries come from different places, what about Vanadium? China has most of the mines, later Russia and South Africa so it has more or less the same supply chain, why not build a higher capacity battery if you gonna use the same supply chain geography?…

Seth Gouin
Seth Gouin

If purchased when could I take delivery?

Mark Dale
Mark Dale

Vanadium redox is extremely toxic to the environment if spilled or leaked. Vanadium flow batteries rely on charging this electrolyte and pumping it into your battery. The electrolyte needs to be changed ( re charged ) . If you can mitigate the risk of spillage it’s a good system, but imagine if most homes had this system. How do you transport the fully charged electrolyte to everybody? Tankers? Pipe lines?

John
John

100 watt solar array > dc output operates match rated dc motor to power AC Generator up to 15KW. Is this possible?
The solar output direct to motor removes the dc/ac inverter. Energy storage for night and lower solar input recharges as a separate circuit from AC Generator.

If this works lead/acid batteries, Powerwall or Vanadium flow storage all work, right?

Alfred
Alfred

I mean Dr. Smile’s comment was helpful…. not the one about keeping a six pack which lowers the tone.

Alfred
Alfred

Actually very helpful comments about the capacity…. which supplements the superficiality of the article. thank you.

John Gordon
John Gordon

What is the power storage capacity of this battery?

eLJay
eLJay

Elon’s million mile battery… Because Elon has never made promises he can’t keep. If you’ll excuse me I’ll just board Elon’s intercontinental reimagining of a Victorian vacuum train. 🤣

J Ford
J Ford

Are these available for sale in Spain

Beckett
Beckett

Interested for my rural home in france

Bergantino Gennaro
Bergantino Gennaro

Cosa pensate degli accumulatori d’energia elettrica al grafene?

Tony
Tony

Fact check: 1. Lithium batteries are sustainable, lithium or other materials are not ‘consumed’ in the process. They need only energy to reform them after they have reduced capacity. 2. Lithium batteries are also ‘geared’ towards a 20yr life. It depends on the number of cycles and discharge rate, it’s likely most car batteries will last 20yrs. Lithium titanate can manage 30,000 cycles. Comparing warranty with expected life is not valid. 3. Lithium batteries only use a very small amount of Lithium or cobalt. The main bulk will probably be iron phosphate in future. 4. Many countries are ramping up… Read more »

John
John

Can

Mr Julian Parry
Mr Julian Parry

Are they commercially available?

NavyBlueSmoke
NavyBlueSmoke

Good to see alternatives to lithium being researched. As more test beds go into labs we’ll find which ones are worth pursuing but in this world where many sheeple believe in fantasy like pandemics that don’t fulfill real dictionary meaning of Pandemic then it’s difficult for me to believe we’re truly an advancing civilization.