With research showing that one cargo ship can emit pollution equivalent to 50 million cars, something needs to be done to reduce this. The optimal solution may be at hand if studies shown at the latest International Flow Battery Forum (IFBF) can be brought to commercial reality. Vic Giles highlights some of the conference findings.
The conference organisers, Swanbarton, made significant efforts to ensure that the audience were fully engaged with their second online event and that appeared to pay off. Though the conference is one of the smaller industry events the level of commitment was shown in the 160-180 who stayed engaged throughout each of the three days.
Asian speakers and delegates were very enthusiastic and showed their commitment by staying awake into the early hours of their days so that they could talk live to the delegates in the US. A fully international range of speakers from Japan, Korea, Singapore and Australia, as well as Europe and the US, helped ensure the event was a success.
Perhaps because flow batteries are an emerging technology, a vibrant dynamic was brought to the conference by the number of young speakers both male and female.
Lithium technologies may well be the darling of the energy storage industry but the rising demand for long-duration storage means other technologies are coming to the fore in this sector. It is the modularity of flow batteries that ensures the long-term life of flow batteries— the electrolyte is stored externally and can be recharged or replaced easily. This makes for a system that has received positive evaluation in the marine sector.
Flo-Mar evaluated a system where electrolyte can be stored in large containers at a port— where it is charged while the ship is at sea. When the ship docks, the spent electrolyte can be pumped out and recharged electrolyte pumped onboard to replace it. This means the turnaround time for the vessel is kept to a minimum so that more operational time is available.
Another significant factor for the marine application is the safety of flow batteries compared to lithium. The technology is inherently safe from the risk of fire, which is one of the greatest fears for ships at sea.
PortLiner showed its vision of flow batteries being used for inland shipping with electrolyte being stored in pontoons, where it is recharged using renewable energy sources. The recharged electrolyte is then exchanged with the spent electrolyte. If this is sounding like a common theme, it highlights the operational efficiencies of the technology for maritime applications. Existing vessels can be converted from diesel power to zero emission electric power using flow batteries— and recover some of the cargo space into the bargain.