Vanadium flow battery player VRB gets US$24m investment from Thai renewables company BCPG

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Vanadium flow battery cell stacks at VRB Energy’s large-scale demonstrator project in Hubei Province, China. Image: VRB Energy.

Thailand-headquartered renewable energy group BCPG will invest US$24 million into vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) manufacturer VRB Energy, aimed at accelerating VRB’s utility-scale VRFB business.

BCPG is active in developing and operating assets across the solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric technologies in Asia, with projects in Thailand, Japan, Laos, the Philippines and Indonesia. Energy-Storage.news reported in May 2020 that a BCPG subsidiary had signed up for a loan deal with the Asian Development Bank for Thailand’s first wind-plus-storage project, in a pilot scheme that the ADB said could be replicated and scaled up elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Investment target VRB Energy meanwhile is among the VRFB technology providers looking to commercialise its offerings with a view to capturing opportunities for large-scale, long-duration facilities with several hours’ of storage. VRFBs could be a longer-lasting alternative to cheaper lithium-ion batteries, but more commonly are described as a complementary energy storage technology for lithium, able to do energy applications cost-effectively, while lithium-ion will likely remain popular for power applications.

Canada-headquartered VRB is owned by minerals exploration company Ivanhoe Electric (which was formerly known as High Powered Exploration), which in turn is owned by electric industry innovation group I-Pulse. The groups are led by Robert Friedland, a noted figure in the junior mining industry, who is also now VRB’s chairman. To date, the company has deployed around 40MWh of VRFBs world-wide.

As part of a flagship clean energy and grid modernisation strategy scheme of the Chinese government, several large-scale VRFB projects are being built across the country in the coming years. VRB has been awarded a 100MW / 500MWh project in Hubei Province through the scheme and commissioned a 3MW / 12MWh demonstrator system a couple of years ago.

In March this year Energy-Storage.news reported that in addition to a framework agreement for the 500MWh project, the company has also signed documents with local government in Xiangyang, Hubei Province, to build a 1,000MW per annum VRFB factory in the region.

Investment from BCPG will support expansion of VRB Energy’s manufacturing capacity, the rollout of its latest Gen3 flow battery energy storage system (ESS) product, as well as assisting with the vertical integration of vanadium processing into its supply chains. VRB CEO Dr Mianyuan Huang said that BCPG could also now work with VRB to add storage to its existing and planned projects, which Huang said would “optimise system performance and enhance revenues” from renewables assets. The pair could also consider localised manufacturing of ESS in Thailand, Huang said.

“We have been determined to strengthen our position as a leader in the green energy sector through investment in smart energy solutions, and VRB Energy’s long-duration batteries are a perfect fit to meet increasing demand for renewable energy, grid stability, and microgrid development,” BCPG CEO Bundit Sapianchai said.

BCPG said the market for energy storage is rapidly expanding in Thailand, and the investment should help VRB Energy and BCPG meet that demand and across the Southeast Asia region as it grows, as well as demand for VRB's products in China which already exists. 

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