Trafigura clean energy JV’s first project will be 25MW / 100MWh battery storage system in Belgium

By Andy Colthorpe
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One of Belgium’s existing large-scale battery storage facilities. Image: Eneco-Alfen-Next Kraftwerke.

Commodities trading company Trafigura has said that it is building a large-scale battery storage plant in Belgium through a newly-launched renewable energy joint venture (JV) company.

Located at the site of a zinc smelting facility in the northeastern Belgian municipality of Balen, owned and operated by metals company Nyrstar, construction on the project is expected to begin in the first half of this year for completion during 2022. Trafigura said in a press release last week that the project will use lithium-ion batteries with 25MW rated output and 100MWh capacity (four hours duration).

The multinational formed Nala Renewables last year, a JV with institutional fund manager IFM Investors. The JV would work on solar, wind and power storage projects around the world, Trafigura said in late September, with a target of creating the 2GW portfolio of projects to be in operation, under construction or in late stage development within five years.

The project at Nyrstar’s Balen smelting facility will require total investment of around €30 million (US$36.55 million) and will provide grid-balancing and stability-enhancing services to Belgium’s grid, in addition to shifting renewable energy production to peak demand periods. While Trafigura said it is adding a pipeline of 250MW of early-stage development renewable energy projects to the Nala Renewables portfolio, the Balen battery energy storage system (BESS) project is the first “live” project for the new JV.

Customer Nyrstar is majority-owned by Trafigura, and the parent company said back in September that Nala Renewables will build and operate projects adjacent to Trafigura’s mining, port and smelting infrastructure projects. In announcing the Balen BESS, Trafigura’s head of power and renewables trading Julien Rolland said that “similar concepts” are being “formulated for other assets,” including oil company Puma Energy’s facilities in Puerto Rico and a copper mine in southern Spain.

“Efficient energy storage has a critical role in the low-carbon economy. Weather-reliant renewables, such as wind and solar, generate energy intermittently. This needs to be combined with high-capacity energy storage and rapid-release systems that can be used to align peaks and troughs in power generation with changing patterns in demand,” Rolland said.

“In this case we are keen to use the expertise and facilities we have at Nyrstar Balen to enable the connection between the BESS and the Belgian grid,” Nyrstar CEO Daniel Vanin said.

According to Trafigura, this will be the “first of many” projects being analysed by Nala Renewables, in Belgium and other global territories. 

Belgium among Europe’s battery storage near-term hotspots

The majority of large-scale battery storage and renewables-plus-storage systems in Belgium that has recently reported on have been located at commercial and industrial (C&I) sites, including a 2MW / 2MWh ‘virtual power plant’ and a pilot project combining rooftop solar with both lithium-ion battery and vanadium flow battery energy storage. Search engine giant Google has also said it will be deploying a battery storage solution at one of its Belgian data centres, which will combine backup functions more commonly performed at such facilities by diesel engines – with the batteries also serving in grid services markets for the majority of their run-time.

The largest standalone battery storage system this site has covered in Belgium thus far is a 10MW / 20MWh lithium-ion project, which reached financial close late last year. While that project’s planned use of two-hour duration batteries was hailed as something of a game changer for the Belgian – and European – energy storage market, Trafigura’s latest announcement significantly ups the ante in both size and storage duration.

Going forwards, consultancy Clean Horizon highlighted Belgium as among Europe’s most interesting markets for battery storage to provide grid services in an interview with last year. Clean Horizon CEO Michael Salomon said that the country’s electricity system has had long-term “flexibility issues” which batteries could help to resolve

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