Novel battery system could reduce buildings' electric bills

May 08, 2012

The CUNY Energy Institute, which has been developing innovative low-cost batteries that are safe, non-toxic, and reliable with fast discharge rates and high energy densities, announced that it has built an operating prototype zinc anode battery system. The Institute said large-scale commercialization of the battery would start later this year.

Zinc anode batteries offer an environmentally friendlier and less costly alternative to nickel cadmium batteries. In the longer term, they also could replace lead-acid batteries at the lower cost end of the market. However, the challenge of dendrite formation associated with zinc had to be addressed. Dendrites are that cause batteries to short out.

To prevent dendrite build-up, CUNY researchers developed a flow-assisted zinc anode battery with a sophisticated advanced battery management (BMS) that controls the charge/discharge protocol. To demonstrate the new technology and its applications, which range from peak electricity demand reduction to grid-scale , they have assembled a 36 kilowatt-hour rechargeable battery system.

The system, housed in the basement of Steinman Hall on The City College of New York campus, consists of 36 individual one kWh nickel-zinc flow-assisted cells strung together and operated by the BMS. In peak electricity demand reduction, batteries charge during low usage periods, i.e. overnight, and discharge during peak-demand periods when surcharges for power usage are very high.

"This is affordable, rechargeable electricity storage made from cheap, non-toxic materials that are inherently safe," said Dr. Sanjoy Banerjee, director of the CUNY Energy Institute and distinguished professor of engineering in CCNY's Grove School of Engineering. "The entire Energy Institute has worked on these batteries – stacking electrodes, mounting terminals, connecting to the inverters – and they are going to be a game changer for the electric grid."

The batteries are designed for more than 5,000 – 10,000 charge cycles and a useful life exceeding ten years. The demonstration system is being expanded currently to 100 kWh, with another 200 kWh to be installed later this year. At that point, it will be capable of meeting more than 30 percent of Steinman Hall's peak-demand power needs, yielding savings of $6,000 or more per month.

Professor Banerjee sees initial applications for the batteries in industrial facilities and large, commercial properties. The nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries that would be initially replaced are used in applications that range from backup power for server farmers to very large starter motors. Other large-scale Ni-Cd applications include grid support, like a system in Alaska that deploys a 45 MW Ni-Cd array.

The CUNY Energy Institute's zinc anode can be produced for a cost in the $300 - $500 per kWh range, which for many applications has a three to five-year payback period. The cost is being rapidly reduced and is expected to reach $200 kWh with a year.

To commercialize the batteries, researchers plan to have a company operational by fall 2012 with the goal of breaking even within two years, Professor Banerjee said. The company will probably set up its pilot manufacturing facility in close proximity to City College, he added.

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User comments : 14

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4.3 / 5 (6) May 08, 2012
Why just for large-scale applications? This sounds like a great idea for home use - especially if the charging could be done by solar or other sources instead of the grid.
1.7 / 5 (6) May 08, 2012
"The demonstration system is being expanded currently to 100 kWh, with another 200 kWh to be installed later this year. At that point, it will be capable of meeting more than 30 percent of Steinman Hall's peak-demand power needs, yielding savings of $6,000 or more per month."

Do the math people before you jump up and down with joy. The $6000/month savings is a bunch of crap. 100KWH of electricity costs at most $25 even during peak hours. Assuming 1 cycle per day of off peak charging (if the power was free then) and peak usage that gives a savings of $750 per month.

THIS is why I have absolutely no respect for "Green" science.
2 / 5 (4) May 08, 2012
I tried to delete the above but could not. Bad Math, my error. Please ignore the above.
not rated yet May 08, 2012
If a house in on the grid, it is far less expensive to push excess power back into the grid. Plus, losing power for an hour or two isn't a problem for the vast majority of people. The few exceptions are people dependent on powered medical devices.

Off-grid alternative energy systems would benefit from better storage. Lead-acid batteries are lucky to last for 200-300 charge-discharge cycles, jumping to 10,000 cycles would mean the battery could last the lifetime of the house.
not rated yet May 08, 2012
I cannot remember the name of the company to save my life, but they have installed batteries at Google and NASA/AMES here in Mountain View, California. I recently read an article about how they've created a new production plant on the east coast, in hopes of expanding their customer base. If anyone can remember the name of this company, please post. The new company mentioned in this article would be a new competitor.
1 / 5 (4) May 08, 2012
I read the article again and now know why our college graduates are broke and unemployed. These people are either incompetent or bold face lairs.

There is no possible way to save $6000 per month with the figures that they quoted unless there is some sort of huge government subsidy involved.
5 / 5 (4) May 08, 2012
I read the article again and now know why our college graduates are broke and unemployed. These people are either incompetent or bold face lairs.

There is no possible way to save $6000 per month with the figures that they quoted unless there is some sort of huge government subsidy involved.

Maybe our graduates are unemployed because our country is in a horrible recession and many jobs including engineering are being outsourced.

There may be government subsidies or the battery system may help them avoid excessive load charges. When large loads on a grid are turned on (like when it gets hot and all the HVAC systems kick on simultaneously in a large building) they incur an additional and often pricey charge from the utility for this instant demand. The battery system may allow them to supplement their immediate drain and slowly switch over to utility power, reducing extra charges.
not rated yet May 09, 2012
In any electrical device the word "anode" refers to a terminal that is removing electrons from a device and has a positive charge. Dendrites are only formed on a "cathode" that is adding electrons to a device and has a negative charge that attracts the zinc atoms that have positive charge (opposite charges attract and like charges repel) I find the idea of dendrites forming on a "zinc anode battery" hard to accept.
1.8 / 5 (5) May 09, 2012
Let's face it Trek the article is a sham. The total cost for 300KWH per day for 30 days is $2,250 at 25 cents/KWH. So how can the system save them $6000 per month.

This article was published by CUNY. I think that their graduates should be entitled to a full tuition refund and the CUNY staff be forced to replete 8th grade.
not rated yet May 09, 2012
MR166, I see how they are coming to that $6000 number. Like all energy number green and non green, it's monkey math. They are assuming that if you could draw 100KWH at something like 11 cents for 24 hours straight, then in a month you would have $6000 dollars. Is that what you would be really saving? Maybe if the system was setup correctly with alternating battery arrays, that were fed by some other power source. A more real scenario is storing power for non power situations like black outs, and usage with addendum power sources like solar/wind and water. But even then the question is what is the length of recovery? Is it worth it in that scenario? Maybe, maybe not? Are there any credits and grants from the government and power companies that make it worth it?
5 / 5 (2) May 09, 2012
The $6000/month savings figure must be a typo, it is surely $600, that's about $20 per day. Further on in the article it states that this would give the system a three to five-year payback period which puts the cost price of the system around $20k-$50k range, which sounds about right. For the record, this was not a scientific paper but instead a journalistic article, so malevolent sneers about 'green science' only expose petty prejudice.
1 / 5 (2) May 09, 2012
Prejudice my behind! Just do the math and you will see how the whole article is just another green pipe dream. Per the article the batteries will cost a minimum of $60,000 At a savings of $600/month it will take 100 months to pay off an interest free loan.

That is almost the projected life of the battery. So where exactly is the savings?????

Most "Green" projects use this sort of fuzzy math as a justification for their continued funding. That is why I have, as you call it, an anti-green "prejudice".
1 / 5 (1) May 09, 2012
Don't get me wrong, I think that the battery could be a valuable asset if the prices come down just a bit more below $200/KWH. The research needs to be continued. Just don't try to snow me by telling me they will save money at this point in time.
5 / 5 (2) May 10, 2012
Disappointing in that the artcle failed to mention specific energy density or specific charge/discharge rates. Parameters of utmost import concerning EV's. Yes, I do realize that that application was not addressed, would have given comparison to other storage technologies. a glaring ommission I think.