Swiss manufacturer Alevo has launched a new battery and grid storage division in North Carolina that it promises will lead to hundreds of megawatts worth of battery-based grid storage projects. The U.S. subsidiary hopes to manufacture its formulation of lithium iron phosphate (known in the industry as LFP) batteries in the 3.5 million square foot Concord, North Carolina factory.
Alevo’s battery chemistry is not new – there are dozens of LFP manufacturers (most based in China) cranking out hundreds of megawatts of batteries for portable power and grid storage applications. However, Alevo claims that its formulation of the chemistry (primarily its secret electrolyte additives) will enable its LFP batteries to last as long as 43,000 cycles of full discharge. If such a cycle life is proven in the field, this chemistry will represent the most durable lithium ion (Li-ion) battery available today.
An Impressive Debut
Alevo also claims that it uses a non-flammable electrolyte, which makes its battery less prone to catching fire than most grid storage batteries. Although the company won’t discuss manufacturing costs, LFP batteries have relatively cheap material inputs, opening up a potential path toward low-cost cells.
During the unveiling ceremony at the Concord plant (complete with a drawing back of the curtains on stage, swirling searchlights, and wolf whistles from the employees that packed the audience – all for a 20-foot shipping container), the air-cooled battery bank was displayed, along with its Parker Hannifin inverter and fire detection and suppression equipment. Alevo also highlighted its big data and analytics capabilities, which it says are needed to help deploy and optimize the energy storage system.
While Alevo seems to have plenty of capital behind it (Reuters reported that Swiss investors have put up more than $1 billion), as well as several global partnerships, it has significant challenges ahead. The most important of these focus on the battery cells themselves: real-life durability and manufacturing cost.
On the durability front, Alevo’s internal accelerated testing of 43,000 deep discharge cycles is indeed impressive. But accelerated testing is an imperfect science. Batteries tend to perform very differently in the real world over the course of decades, as opposed to laboratory benchmark tests that model expected long-term battery durability.
As for manufacturing costs, Alevo has a hard mountain to climb to learn how to become a battery manufacturer, especially with the challenges that LFP technology brings to the factory. Unlike other Li-ion chemistries, LFP requires very finicky vacuum technologies that make large-scale manufacturing hard to do efficiently. Many other LFP manufacturers have assumed cheap manufacturing costs only to find that the chemistry left them with much higher costs, lower yields, and more failures than expected. While other cobalt-based Li-ion chemistries have higher costs for material inputs, the manufacturing processes are much simpler and easier to scale. Alevo’s claims are impressive; proving them will be another matter.
Tags: Advanced Batteries, Energy Storage, Finance & Investing, Lithium Ion, Smart Energy Program
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