SimpliPhi predicts a cobalt-free battery takeover sooner than anyone expects


In a report issued last week, Wood Mackenzie estimated that lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) is poised to overtake lithium-manganese-cobalt-oxide (NMC) as the dominant stationary storage chemistry globally by 2030. And, while that is an ambitious prediction in its own right, one company, SimpliPhi, is looking to drive that transition much sooner.

“There’s a really critical factor that’s also having an impact on the industry that may be hard to quantify at this point, or to appreciate,” SimpliPhi CEO, Catherine Von Burg, shared with pv magazine. “That has to do with the ongoing hazards: fires, explosions, etc., that continue to happen because of that NMC, because of cobalt-based lithium ion chemistries.”

Von Burg said that knowledge of cobalt’s precarious position in battery chemistry is no recent discovery and steps have been made to mitigate its usage and damage potential for nearly a decade. In addition to the dangers it brings as a metal, the way that the industry gets its cobalt are less-than-savory as well.

“The truth is that the earliest innovations to lithium-ion were around the cobalt-oxide,” Von Burg said. “As the industry progressed, going into 2011/12 [manufacturers began] adding in manganese, nickel and other metals to help offset or mitigate the risks that the cobalt fundamentally has. Cobalt is fundamentally toxic and hazardous. It has a very dubious supply chain with child labor, warlord labor and all sorts of other problems.”

Swift changes

As for the chemistry revolution happening faster than expected, SimpliPhi has reported 30% higher year-to-date sales, despite the global pandemic, a fact that the company attributes to customers wanting safe, non-toxic backup power for resiliency and security. There are some fairly sizable customers on this list, too, with SimpliPhi announcing battery storage projects with utilities AEP and PEPCO earlier in 2020.

AEP and Southwestern Electric Power Co. set up a demonstration of cobalt-free intelligent energy storage+solar systems. the demonstration installation uses SimpliPhi’s 3.8-kWh batteries, inverters and a Heila controller, which acts as a battery management system and an energy management system. All resources controlled by the Heila EDGE are then aggregated to form a distributed intelligent network that can be used by any central controller.

SimpliPhi partnered with Pepco to create a community microgrid at a new housing development, The Maycroft. According to a release, the Maycroft’s Resiliency Center includes a 70.2 kW rooftop solar array combined with a 46 kW/56 kWh battery system that disconnects from the grid and provides power for up to three days during an unplanned power outage.

New tech on the way

In between predictions of an accelerated battery revolution, Von Burg also took time to talk with pv magazine about SimpliPhi’s newest product, the AmpliPHI 3.8 kWh battery, one which features a proprietary BMS that calculates and transforms metrics into algorithms that protect, monitor, report, control, authenticate and balance battery performance.

“When we entered the market, every single one of our batteries had a BMS and the interface was based on voltage curves. In other words, it was smart management internal to the batteries, in order to optimize performance,” Von Burg said. “As the market has progressed and as we have engaged in projects with utilities, we’ve seen the need to have even more connectivity and intelligence built into the BMS, allowing our batteries to perform above and beyond voltage curves and set points with inverter charge controller equipment to actually have digital information and interconnectivity with, for instance, microgrid site controllers.”

“This AmpliPHI battery’s BMS is something we’ve been working on for almost a year,” Von Burg said. “What the battery enables is automatic synchronization. You don’t have to tell our battery, whether it’s one or 100 of them, that on-site there is an inverter charge controller, it’s already been pre-programmed to speak the inverter’s language and it syncs up.”

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