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Primus gets South Africa flow battery order from supplier-investor Anglo American Platinum

Primus Power EnergyPods can be paired with solar PV to provide long durations of storage. Image: Primus Power.

A mining operation in South Africa will start managing the cost of its consumed energy with the deployment of eight flow batteries from Primus Power.

Anglo American Platinum, listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE) with mining, smelting and refining operations in South Africa, will install 200kW / 1,000kWh of energy storage in the form of Primus Power’s EnergyPod 2 units at Amandebult, a mine in the Limpopo province.

Amandebult is actually grid-connected and the flow battery systems will be designed to manage the peak use of grid power. During those peak periods when commercial users of electricity in particular are charged the highest rates - the energy storage units will feed their stored energy into the mine’s operational circuits, thereby reducing its need for that more expensive grid power.

The platinum company is already deeply involved with California-headquartered Primus Power. As part of Anglo American Platinum’s own initiative to invest US$20 million each year over five years, with an additional US$20 million from outside investors over that period, in developing the market for platinum in South Africa, it chose to become an investor in Primus in 2014. There appear to be strategic and synergistic reasons for this investment, as Anglo American supplies metals which are used as catalyst to the EnergyPod’s titanium electrodes. Primus uses the titanium electrodes instead of graphite, which is commonly used by other makers with CEO Tom Stepien explaining why in this interview with Energy-Storage.News last year. 

These are not the first Primus Power zinc-bromine battery EnergyPods deployed in the country. National utility Eskom is testing the systems at its large-scale energy storage test facility in Rosherville, Johannesburg, with Anglo American Platinum also involved in that project, also supported by the US Trade and Development Agency. Local partner SolAfrica developed that project and was awarded the USTDA grant in late September of last year.

Another test project using a different flow battery, made by UniEnergy Technologies (UET) was announced by Bushveld Minerals shortly after that, trialling 120kW / 450kWh of UET’s vanadium redox flow batteries in a 20ft container.

Primus Power, which contracts its manufacturing and assembly to Foxconn, the Taiwan-headquartered assembly partner for Apple’s iPhones, is among a handful of flow energy storage players currently seeking to commercialise the technology, with varying degrees of success. While considered less bankable than lithium-ion, its suitability for long durations of storage and overall longevity through many cycles mean that many predict it is only a matter of time before flow batteries or flow machines see greater levels of deployment. Several planned projects in China call for system designs of multiple hundreds of megawatts, for example.

Rik Wuts, VP and business development at Powerhive, a US company which develops solar microgrids backed with energy storage in Africa, predominantly in Kenya and Nigeria, told Energy-Storage.News that for his company, which acts as a full service utility for households in the territories it works in, flow batteries were still prohibitively expensive. He did agree however that there were strong points to the technology.

“I think ultimately, we’ll see those [flow batteries] are very safe, they’ll come down in cost and they have very long longevity. But the footprint is humungous, and yet the cost per unit right now is very high.”

Wuts said that Powerhive would not be able to use flow batteries in the present day without a subsidy from a vendor but agreed that “there will come a point” when the economics reach full competitiveness. 

“South Africa represents an important growth area for Primus. Our long duration batteries will save Anglo American money and support their energy security, environmental and socio-economic goals. We look forward to deepening our relationship with them and our other partners in this vital market,” Primus Power CEO Tom Stepien said.

“EnergyPods allow Amandelbult to realise an immediate monthly reduction in electricity costs and an improvement in energy security,” Anglo American Platinum investment programme manager Andrew Hinkly said.

“Moreover, this project will also lay the groundwork to define future local South African manufacturing and assembly opportunities for the technology .”

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