The vanadium redox battery (VRB), also known as the vanadium flow battery (VFB) or vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB), is a type of rechargeable flow battery. It employs vanadium ions as charge carriers. The battery uses vanadium’s ability to exist in a solution in four different oxidation states to make a battery with a single electroactive element instead of two. For several reasons, including their relative bulkiness, vanadium batteries are typically used for grid energy storage, i.e., attached to power plants/electrical grids.
Numerous companies and organizations are involved in funding and developing vanadium redox batteries.
Pissoort mentioned the possibility of VRFBs in the 1930s. NASA researchers and Pellegri and Spaziante followed suit in the 1970s, but neither was successful. Maria Skyllas-Kazacos presented the first successful demonstration of an All-Vanadium Redox Flow Battery employing dissolved vanadium in a solution of sulfuric acid in the 1980s. Her design used sulfuric acid electrolytes, and was patented by the University of New South Wales in Australia in 1986.
One of the important breakthroughs achieved by Skyllas-Kazacos and coworkers was the development of a number of processes to produce vanadium electrolytes of over 1.5 M concentration using the lower cost, but insoluble vanadium pentoxide as starting material. These processes involved chemical and electrochemical dissolution and were patented by the University of NSW in 1989. During the 1990s the UNSW group conducted extensive research on membrane selection, graphite felt activation, conducting plastic bipolar electrode fabrication, electrolyte characterisation and optimisation as well as modelling and simulation. Several 1-5 kW VFB prototype batteries were assembled and field tested in a Solar House in Thailand and in an electric golf cart at UNSW.
The UNSW All-Vanadium Redox Flow Battery patents and technology were licensed to Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation and Kashima-Kita Electric Power Corporation in the mid-1990s and subsequently acquired by Sumitomo Electric Industries where extensive field testing was conducted in a wide range of applications in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In order to extend the operating temperature range of the battery and prevent precipitation of vanadium in the electrolyte at temperatures above 40oC in the case of V(V), or below 10oC in case of the negative half-cell solution, Skyllas-Kazacos and coworkers tested hundreds of organic and inorganic additives as potential precipitation inhibitors. They discovered that inorganic phosphate and ammonium compounds were effective in inhibiting precipitation of 2 M vanadium solutions in both the negative and positive half-cell at temperatures of 5 and 45°C respectively and ammonium phosphate was selected as the most effective stabilising agent. Ammonium and phosphate additives were used to prepare and test a 3 M vanadium electrolyte in a flow cell with excellent results.
VRFBs’ main advantages over other types of battery:
VRFBs’ main disadvantages compared to other types of battery:
A vanadium redox battery consists of an assembly of power cells in which two electrolytes are separated by a proton exchange membrane. The electrodes in a VRB cell are carbon based. The most common types are carbon felt, carbon paper, carbon cloth, graphite felt, and carbon nanotubes.
Both electrolytes are vanadium-based. The electrolyte in the positive half-cells contains VO2+ and VO2+ ions, while the electrolyte in the negative half-cells consists of V3+ and V2+ ions. The electrolytes can be prepared by several processes, including electrolytically dissolving vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) in sulfuric acid (H2SO4). The solution is strongly acidic in use.
The most common membrane material is perfluorinated sulfonic acid (PFSA or Nafion). However, vanadium ions can penetrate a PFSA membrane and destabilize the cell. A 2021 study found that penetration is reduced with hybrid sheets made by growing tungsten trioxide nanoparticles on the surface of single-layered graphene oxide sheets. These hybrid sheets are then embedded into a sandwich structured PFSA membrane reinforced with polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon). The nanoparticles also promote proton transport, offering high Coulombic efficiency and energy efficiency of more than 98.1 percent and 88.9 percent, respectively.
The reaction uses the half-reactions:
Other useful properties of vanadium flow batteries are their fast response to changing loads and their overload capacities. They can achieve a response time of under half a millisecond for a 100% load change, and allow overloads of as much as 400% for 10 seconds. Response time is limited mostly by the electrical equipment. Unless specifically designed for colder or warmer climates, most sulfuric acid-based vanadium batteries work between about 10 and 40 °C. Below that temperature range, the ion-infused sulfuric acid crystallizes. Round trip efficiency in practical applications is around 70-80 %.
The original VRFB design by Skyllas-Kazacos employed sulfate (added as vanadium sulfate(s) and sulfuric acid) as the only anion in VRFB solutions, which limited the maximum vanadium concentration to 1.7 M of vanadium ions. In the 1990s, Skyllas-Kazacos discovered the use of ammonium phosphate and other inorganic compounds as precipitation inhibitors to stabilise 2 M vanadium solutions over a temperature range of 5 to 45 oC and a Stabilising Agent patent was filed by UNSW in 1993. This discovery was largely overlooked however and in around 2010 a team from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory proposed a mixed sulfate-chloride electrolyte, that allowed for the use in VRFBs solutions with the vanadium concentration of 2.5 M over a whole temperature range between −20 and +50 °C. Based on the standard equilibrium potential of the V5+/V4+ couple it is expected to oxidize chloride, and for this reason chloride solutions were avoided in earlier VRFB studies. The surprising oxidative stability (albeit only at the state of charge below ca. 80%) of V5+ solutions in the presence of chloride was explained on the basis of activity coefficients. Many researchers explain the increased stability of V(V) at elevated temperatures by the higher proton concentration in the mixed acid electrolyte that shifts the thermal precipitation equilibrium of V(V) away from V2O5. Nevertheless, because of a high vapor pressure of HCl solutions and the possibility of chlorine generation during charging, such mixed electrolytes have not been widely adopted.
Another variation is the use of vanadium bromide salts. Since the redox potential of Br2/2Br- couple is more negative than that of V5+/V4+, the positive electrode operates via the bromine process. However, due to problems with volatility and corrosivity of Br2, they did not gain much popularity (see zinc-bromine battery for a similar problem). A vanadium/cerium flow battery has also been proposed .
VRBs achieve a specific energy of about 20 Wh/kg (72 kJ/kg) of electrolyte. Precipitation inhibitors can increase the density to about 35 Wh/kg (126 kJ/kg), with higher densities possible by controlling the electrolyte temperature. The specific energy is low compared to other rechargeable battery types (e.g., lead-acid, 30-40 Wh/kg (108-144 kJ/kg); and lithium ion, 80-200 Wh/kg (288-720 kJ/kg)).
VRFBs’ large potential capacity may be best-suited to buffer the irregular output of utility-scale wind and solar systems.
Their reduced self-discharge makes them potentially appropriate in applications that require long-term energy storage with little maintenance—as in military equipment, such as the sensor components of the GATOR mine system.
They feature rapid response times well suited to uninterruptible power supply (UPS) applications, where they can replace lead-acid batteries or diesel generators. Fast response time is also beneficial for frequency regulation. These capabilities make VRFBs an effective “all-in-one” solution for microgrids, frequency regulation and load shifting.
Companies funding or developing vanadium redox batteries include Sumitomo Electric Industries, CellCube (Enerox), UniEnergy Technologies, StorEn Technologies in Australia, Largo Energy and Ashlawn Energy in the United States; H2 in Gyeryong-si, South Korea; Renewable Energy Dynamics Technology, Invinity Energy Systems in the United Kingdom, VoltStorage and Schmalz in Europe; Prudent Energy in China; Australian Vanadium, CellCube and North Harbour Clean Energy in Australia; Yadlamalka Energy Trust and Invinity Energy Systems in Australia; EverFlow Energy JV SABIC SCHMID Group in Saudi Arabia and Bushveld Minerals in South Africa.