Participants at the June 2017 Green Chemistry Challenge Award Ceremony

Thomas Connelly, Executive Director, CEO of the American Chemical Society, Vince Sprenkle, PNNL, Gary Yang, UET, Imre Gyuk, DOE-OE, Liyu Li, UET, Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, EPA, and Blake Fry, UET (left to right) at the 2017 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards ceremony in Washington, DC. | Photo courtesy of Adam Fisher.

As I stood yesterday in the grand hall of the Academy of Sciences here in Washington D.C. and watched my colleagues and friends Gary Yang and Liyu Li from UniEnergy Technologies (UET) and Vince Sprenkle, from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), receive a 2017 Green Chemistry Challenge Award, I realized that this was a moment of celebration, but also a moment of recollection. It was a long road of many steps that led up to that exciting moment. Sponsored by EPA in partnership with the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute®, the Challenge Awards recognize individuals and organizations at the national level for their successes in researching, developing and implementing green chemical technologies.

My colleagues were being recognized for their development and commercialization of an advanced Vanadium flow battery. Using an ingenious mixed acid electrolyte, researchers at PNNL, funded by DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE), succeeded in cutting the cost of the storage system in half, in doubling its temperature window, and roughly doubling its energy density. It took five years to achieve this goal. Every year we set a new and more stringent target, and every year the target was reached. Finally the system was ready for commercialization.

PNNL licensed the technology, receiving a Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Technology Transfer in the process. UET picked up a license, perfected the manufacturing process, found financial partners and started to commercialize the system. As a flow battery, the UniEnergy battery separates power and energy. Power is produced in a reversible fuel cell and the energy resides in the vanadium electrolyte stored in large tanks. As a result, the company was able to produce a commercial battery with long, four-hour life time and little degradation.

The awards ceremony also took me back to a blustery day in July 2014 when the first storage facility using UET technology was dedicated in Pullman, WA. The 1MW/4hour facility installed in partnership with Avista, a Washington State utility, had been funded by the Washington Clean Energy Fund. The aim of the project was to test and deploy new energy storage technologies designed to help integrate renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar onto the electric grid and build a grid that is more resilient, efficient and flexible. The ribbon was cut by Governor Inslee, and many dignitaries from Washington State, PNNL, DOE, and from other utilities attended the celebration. Under a separate agreement between OE and Washington State, PNNL is analyzing the performance and the cost/benefit structure of the system which provides grid stability and ancillary services. PNNL and OE also participated, through a similar arrangement, in an 8MWh storage project with Snohomish which was eventually completed a year later.

The partnership between UET, PNNL, OE, and the Washington State Clean Energy Fund has proven to be successful. Under a second round of the Fund, Avista and UET are now teaming to develop a transactive microgrid. There are now UET projects underway in Washington State, Hawaii, Alaska, Tennessee, California, Germany, and Italy. Many of these projects will be studied using analytical models being developed at PNNL and at Sandia National Laboratories under OE funding. Many of the projects involve resilient microgrids offering a robust business case through benefit stacking. Others address grid stability directly. More than 100 megawatt hours of UET systems are now deployed, ordered, or awarded.

I have every confidence in our teams at the National Laboratories and in the companies that we work with. But it is an extra joy when the value of their work is confirmed through a prestigious award such as the Green Chemistry Challenge. I congratulate Dr. Yang, Dr. Lee, Dr. Sprenkle, and their teams for receiving yesterday’s award for their innovation and commitment to help advance the field of energy storage. Yesterday’s award ceremony will indeed become another splendid memory!

To learn more about how OE partners with industry, states, communities, and other stakeholders to advance innovative grid scale energy storage technology for a more reliable and resilient grid, visit the energy storage program’s section of the OE website.