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28 maio 2019

Does Innolith’s Battery Technology Stand a Chance the Second Time Around?

The company formerly known as Alevo is back on the hunt for deals in the U.S., with an upgraded battery due for production in late 2020.

Innolith, the lithium-ion battery maker that arose from the ashes of Alevo last year, is back in the U.S. after making two senior appointments.

Stephen Wiley, formerly senior director for origination at Younicos, the battery project developer that was snapped up by Aggreko in 2017, is leading Innolith’s efforts to make a dent on the U.S. energy storage market.

Meanwhile Carrie Lin, who used to be a grid solution executive for GE in Beijing, has been named Innolith’s general manager for China.

Wiley and Lin are understood to be scouting the U.S. and Chinese markets not only for grid-scale energy storage opportunities but also for potential customers for a non-flammable EV battery that Innolith says will pack 1,000 watt-hours per kilo.

The battery would be able to power an EV for more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) on a single charge, Innolith said last month.

Commercialization is expected to take between three and five years, Innolith said, with an initial pilot production line due to be installed at Innolith’s German facilities.

In the meantime, Switzerland-based Innolith will focus on finding takers for its grid-scale battery, first developed by Alevo.

Innolith claims the technology can go through more than 50,000 charge and discharge cycles, making it a good match for high-cycle-rate applications such as frequency response services. Alevo only ever managed to press one of its GridBank battery systems into production.

The 2-megawatt system, nicknamed Snook and built into a shipping container, achieved a 98.52 percent score from PJM Interconnection’s performance compliance department when it entered operation on the regional transmission organization’s network in 2017.

The high score means Snook is among the first storage assets to be called upon for frequency response, allowing it to earn more money than worse-performing batteries.

Meanwhile, the high cycling capacity in theory means the battery could remain in service for longer than traditional lithium-ion competitors, giving it a better return on investment.

Wiley told GTM that Innolith’s upcoming battery will be in production by the end of 2020, and will be more advanced than Snook since it will have a slightly higher energy density.

Nevertheless, it will still be aimed at high-power, short-duration tasks, with a discharge time of up to 30 minutes. Alongside frequency response, Wiley said Innolith would be targeting industrial applications in sectors such as oil and gas or mining.

Unlike Alevo, which crashed after over-investing in a U.S. production line, Innolith will not look to build the batteries itself but instead will license the technology to third parties.

Wiley said he had been “pleasantly surprised” by the number of battery system integrators willing to talk to him. “Obviously the fact that this facility [Snook] has been operating successfully in PJM for a period of time makes my job a bit easier,” he said.

Despite this, the years since Snook went live have seen the U.S. battery sector increasingly relying on traditional lithium-ion batteries from major Asian vendors.

James Frith, an energy storage associate at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said it would be “difficult to say” how Innolith might fare in the competitive U.S. battery market. “They don’t have any major licensing deals,” he observed.

However, “if some of the larger manufacturers get behind them, they have a technology that could become popular,” Frith said.

One potential draw for Innolith is that its batteries are non-flammable. Last month, traditional lithium-ion’s safety record took a hit when an explosion at a battery plant in Arizona injured four people.

Innolith’s lithium-ion batteries are safer because they do not use organic electrolytes, Frith said. The safety aspect could also be important for the EV batteries that Innolith is developing.

Hugh Sharman, principal at the international energy consulting firm Incoteco, said: “The EV business badly needs a lithium-ion battery that is safer and much more energy dense, therefore much lighter, than the alternatives on the market today.”

However, said Frith, Innolith’s chemistry has one potential catch. “The system is more corrosive than traditional electrolytes and needs to remain completely isolated from moisture,” he said.

“This makes the electrolyte filling a critical step and requires specially designed equipment.”