Lockheed Martin Developing Inexpensive, Non-Toxic Flow Battery to Boost Renewables

Courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin has announced the development of a new “flow battery,” intended to save utilities money and boost the use of renewable energy. The battery will be made of inexpensive, nontoxic materials.

Flow batteries use chemicals dissolved in water, which makes them last longer than solid lithium-ion batteries. According to Frank Armijo, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for energy initiatives, flow batteries can last from six to 10 hours while lithium-ion batteries typically last two to four hours. Also, flow batteries do not share lithium-ion’s degradation issues.

These new batteries would enable utilities to meet customer demand during peak times. Utilities have been looking for more affordable ways to store renewable energy, and flow batteries seem to be one solution.

“[With flow batteries,] you open up a chance not only to make renewables more marketable and more useful, you might even change the structure of at least a portion of the utility market,” said Leo Mackay, senior vice president for sustainability and ethics at Lockheed Martin’s Global Vision Center in Arlington, Va., according to Reuters.

No date has officially been given for the introduction of the battery. An earlier report suggested it would come in 2018, but Armijo gave the timeline of a “little more than a year.”

Lockheed Martin’s battery will use “proprietary electrolyte chemistry” that will combine inexpensive chemicals and earth metals, Armijo said. With these, utilities will be able to be less centralized and more site-specific.

"The challenge with existing flow batteries is that they lean heavily on materials like vanadium and zinc bromide, which are extremely expensive and toxic,” he said. “Ours is neither of that.”

Battery technology is not a wholly new area for Lockheed; the company has long developed advanced batteries for its space program. Now, it is looking to bring the latest technology to grid storage and is entering the fray with companies such as Tesla and LG Chem.

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