Plug Pulled on Regenesys

Utilipoint’s Issue Alert on Jan 22 did a nice job of reviewing several developments in energy storage (I highly recommend getting on the distribution list for these daily missives):

“Energy Storage Shows Promise”
http://www.utilipoint.com/issuealert/article.asp?id=1985

There are nice plugs for Active Power and Beacon flywheels (though Pentadyne is really the one to watch, I think). Curiously, Beacon is focusing not on very short duration, but instead is going after the lead acid battery applications.

The big news was the stopping of all work on the big TVA Regenesys project, and the curtailment of the work on its sister project at Little Barford in the UK.

The Regenesys flow battery works by storing or releasing electrical energy by means of a reversible electrochemical reaction between two salt solutions—the electrolytes. The electrolytes are pumped through hundreds of individual cells, which are separated by a membrane. The electrolytes are stored in 700,000-gallon tanks; the concentrated solutions are sodium bromide and sodium polysulphide. (Many references are available on the technology.)

The history of the business is a bit complicated. Originally begun under National Power in the UK, the program was placed (in around 1999) into a subsidiary company, by the name of Innogy. Later, National Power was split up into International Power and a domestic utility business. The domestic utility portion took the name Innogy, meaning that the technology subsidiary had to be renamed Innogy Technology Ventures Limited before a further renaming as Regenesys. Recall that Regenesys was being prepared for an IPO, which was suspended when tech stocks dropped in 2001. It was the utility business, Innogy, which was subsequently acquired by the German giant, RWE in 2002. RWE was rounding out its British invasion, having previously bought Thames Water, a major water supply company, and some smaller energy services companies. The technology development subsidiary, Regenesys, was simply an incidental piece that came with the deal.

Note that Regenesys is the only flow battery technology effort that had decided to focus entirely on very large utility scale applications (“pumped hydro in a box”), e.g., at 10-20 MW. Actually, it only really makes sense at this kind of size. (The other flow battery developers have been targetting much smaller projects, in the 1 kW to 1 MW range). Prior to the RWE acquisition, Regenesys had acquired Electrosynthesis, a small electrochemical consulting company in Buffalo NY to boost its resources, and laid plans for a serious assault on the North American market. Meanwhile, work continued on the first commercial 120 Mwh demo at the Little Barford power plant in the UK.

At TVA, the $25 million facility was just about complete, but TVA needed the electrochemical modules, when RWE decided it wasn’t prepared to continue funding development, leaving the program with nowhere to go. TVA made a very quiet announcement in December, but because of other news around the holiday season it wasn’t picked up by the US press til mid January. (See for example,
http://reviewappeal.midsouthnews.com/news.ez?viewStory=17207)

TVA is exploring ways to move forward, including other possible uses of the site.

The general view is that the technology is viable but RWE estimates the technology has another 5 years of work ahead before it’s truly commercial. Because the Barford project had slipped far behind as well, RWE simply doesn’t want to continue putting cash in that long; there are other business priorities for RWE.

The future is up for grabs. Regenesys may just be put on the shelf, or be sold off. Meanwhile, a major report on flow batteries is in the works by Escovale, in the UK. “Flow Batteries: Technologies, Applications and Markets” is being prepared by a team that includes Anthony Price, who was marketing manager for the Regenesys program prior to becoming an industry consultant. I have more information on this report.

Anthony would be a good starting point to delve into the implications and opportunities represented by this latest development.
Anthony.price@swanbarton.com 011-44-1666-840-041
http://www.swanbarton.com/

Other contacts:
Mark Kuntz, Regenesys Ltd, Chicago (thru June) 630-562-1271
Joe Hoagland, TVA, 256-386-2108, jjhoagland@tva.gov

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