Ferro-Alloy Resources plc (LON:FAR) Chief Executive Officer Nick Bridgen caught up with DirectorsTalk for an exclusive interview to discuss what vanadium flow batteries are, why they’re important, receiving a Kazakhstan patent and how this will benefit the company.
Ferro-Alloy Resources is low-cost vanadium producer emerging in Kazakhstan. This week, the company has announced it has received a Kazakhstan patent for the efficient technology which it has developed to produce electrolyte for vanadium flow batteries. With me to discuss the update is CEO Nick Bridgen.
Q1: Nick, can you just remind us what vanadium flow batteries are and why they’re important for the company?
A1: They’re very important to the world really. The move to renewable energy which is essentially solar and wind requires storage because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine and moreover, storage needs to eb a quite long duration. Typically, there might only be 8-10 hours of usable sunshine in the day and the wind might not blow for several days so you need long duration storage.
Now, lithium-ion batteries that everyone is familiar with, they’re not very good at that, they’re better at relatively short duration storage. They have some disadvantages, they lose their power after many cycles, the tend to catch fire and you can’t scale energy separately from power.
Whereas this technology, vanadium flow batteries, solves all of those problems because they have tanks to store the electrolyte, it means you can scale power separately, they don’t catch fire and they’re very good at long duration, you can charge them up and discharge them as many times as you want without any deterioration in performance.
So, they’re very important for the world. This vanadium flow battery technology is the frontrunner, there are other ways of doing it, you can move water uphill and catch it on the way down and move lumps of concrete up and down and certain other chemical technologies but this is the front runner.
It is really gathering momentum now.
Q2: What’s the significance of the new patented technology?
A2: What is does is it means that we can, very cost-effectively, make electrolyte from our own raw materials and we’ve done that without buying any technology, we’ve developed it ourselves without consultants. It means that not only do we expect to be the lowest cost producer of vanadium but we should also have a significant cost advantage in converting that vanadium into electrolyte.
So, it positions us to really become a dominant supplier of the electrolyte, the vanadium part, half the cost of a battery is vanadium and we are now able to produce that. We’ve got a little bit more work to do to make sure that every detail of our material is for the battery manufacturers but that’s all we’re working on now but in principle, we can do it.
Q3: Finally, how is Ferro-Alloy Resources going to benefit from it?
A3: As I said, having this technology positions us to be able to supply into potentially any battery manufacturer.
My expectation is that electrolyte is pretty much going to be a generic product, at the moment the battery companies all have their own secret recipes and they all claim theirs has some advantages but from what I’ve read, mostly the electrolyte is essentially the same stuff. So, rather like petrol used to be in the 50’s and 60’s, every oil company claimed their petrol was better than everyone else’s but everyone soon worked out it was all the same stuff.
There’s no point in moving electrolyte, which is mostly water and a little bit of sulphuric acid as well as the vanadium, vast distances around the world so we would expect to supply electrolyte into any battery manufacturer who sells in our region.
That is potentially a huge market, nobody real knows how far this technology will go but the expectation is that it could more than double the demand for vanadium from the existing current uses.
So, we’ll be able to take part in that market, it should be a premium product because not everyone can make it and we’ll be ready to supply as the industry gets going.