Grid Scale, Microgrids, Solar, Storage

ViZn Turns to Jabil to Meet Growing Demand for Flow Batteries

Energy storage startup ViZn, developer of advanced zinc-iron flow battery technology, is scaling up the size and scope of its operations as it works to meet growing demand from a variety of customers both in the U.S. and abroad. It entered into a strategic manufacturing and supply chain management agreement with Jabil Circuit, a leading global provider of such services.

ViZn is seeing demand for its zinc-iron flow batteries growing across a range of applications and end-users, from microgrids, commercial and industrial companies to military applications and utility-scale systems, said CEO Ron Van Dell.

“We have over 20-MW of demand to serve right now. The next two to three quarters will be a very fast ramp-up period for us,” Van Dell said. Management expects orders to continue growing through 2016. It’s looking to begin scaling up manufacturing at Jabil’s principal facility in St. Petersburg, FL in this year’s third quarter, expand capacity in Q4, and then ramp up even more substantially in Q1 2016.

Scaling Up Via a Strategic Manufacturing Partnership

In searching for a strategic contract manufacturing partner, ViZn was looking for an organization that not only was able to scale up production of its zinc-iron flow batteries in short order, but had financial strength and a strong multinational reputation.

What sealed the deal for ViZn was Jabil’s previous experience working with startups looking to evolve from a technology development company into fully formed multinational business organization, Van Dell explained. Set for an initial term of five years, leveraging Jabil Circuit’s strengths and expertise in specialized manufacturing and supply chain management will enable ViZn to grow and mature much more rapidly than would otherwise be the case.

Jabil has 90 sites across 24 countries, which will help ViZn meet demand for its zinc-iron flow batteries, as well as develop its customer service and maintenance capabilities, Van Dell noted.

Bright Prospects for Solar-Plus-Storage Solutions

A ViZn zinc-iron flow battery system integrated with a solar PV system is up and running at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia as part of a Dominion Power installation.

ViZn sees bright prospects for the combination of solar and battery storage in the well-developed energy markets of the U.S. and Europe where renewable energy deployment is high and grid integration is a priority. Demand for solar-plus-storage is growing even faster in developing countries where electricity is unreliable and/or prohibitively expensive, or not available at all.

Typically “flow batteries tend to be energy- [as opposed to power-] centric; they’re not ideally suited to meet peak power demand,” Van Dell explained. ViZn has resolved that issue, as well as fast switching between polarities. “These have been tough challenges, but ones ViZn has been able to solve. That’s essentially what our IP [intellectual property] is all about.”

Addressing costs, Van Dell said ViZn’s zinc-iron flow batteries today come in at $400-$500 per kWh. Management is confident that will drop below $200 per kWh over the next two to three years. “We feel pretty good about how we’re positioned,” Van Dell said.

While lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery storage is the dominant growth driver in the fledgling market for advanced energy storage solutions, Van Dell sees this changing in the near-term.

Van Dell believes there are a number of reasons, both economic and non-economic, why Li-ion batteries don’t make sense when it comes to mid-tier and utility-grade stationary applications. “We think it’s kind of flawed logic to think that magically the right storage technology for mobile transport purposes like EVs turns out to be the optimal storage technology for large stationary apps.”

While touting Li-ion technology as a stationary battery storage solution “may be convenient if you’re looking to create demand for a huge factory, the real world will tell us that the applications and attributes of advanced battery storage systems are so distinct as to argue strongly against such broad-based adoption.”