Quino Energy ramps up production of its organic flow battery formulation


California-based Quino Energy says its new pilot production line is ready to produce its proprietary chemistry for flow batteries. The company will produce electrolytes for existing commercial designs of flow batteries, which use tanks of charged and uncharged solutions to discharge electricity across a membrane. The technology is seen as a possible alternative to in-demand lithium-ion batteries for grid storage applications.

Eugene Beh, co-founder and CEO of Quino Energy, said his company’s electrolyte chemistry based on quinone, an organic compound, is intended to replace vanadium, a metal valued for flow batteries due to its ability to hold a charge but that is expensive and can be difficult to source.

“Our first step as a company is to focus on our organic battery formulation to replace vanadium in existing battery designs,” Beh told pv magazine USA. “Ultimately our goal is to produce the complete battery package to utility and commercial customers.”

The new manufacturing line is expected to be able to produce 100 KWh of reactant solution per day and joins two smaller test lines for lab work. The production facilities exist at Quino’s partner, Electrosynthasis near Buffalo, N.Y. Quino is using its flow batteries as part of a 12 kW solar photovoltaic microgrid at its San Leandro, Calif., headquarters.

In September 2021 Quino received $4.58 million from a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program long-duration energy storage research funding program. According to the funding announcement, this funding was awarded “to strengthen the U.S. domestic flow battery manufacturing ecosystem by developing and executing a scalable, cost‐effective, and continuous process for producing aqueous organic flow battery reactants”. DOE noted that this  investment is part of DOE’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge, critical to achieving the Long Duration Storage Shot goal of reducing the cost of grid-scale energy storage by 90% within the decade.

Quino is also receiving venture capital funding and investment from Israel-based Doral Energy Tech Ventures and from London-based Energy Revolution Ventures.

A chemist by background and a native of Singapore, Beh invented and commercialized a redox flow desalination technology as a researcher at Xerox PARC. He started Quino Energy in 2021 with co-founder Meisam Bahari, who serves as the company’s chief technology officer.

Beh’s quinone formulation for flow batteries is derived from relatively inexpensive and abundant dyestuff chemicals. He says the process for creating the organic battery material does not produce any chemical waste.

Quino Energy’s pilot production line for converting clothing dye into its quinone flow battery electrolyte. On the left is a modified flow battery stack that forms the heart of the reactor. The pilot line can produce 30 MWh (150 tons) of electrolyte per year through a zero-waste, continuous-flow process. Image: Quino Energy

Right now, Quino is simply swapping out vanadium-based electrolytes in commercial flow batteries with its quinone formulation, the source of its intellectual property. The substitution only requires a small modification to the battery’s membrane. Ultimately, Beh wants to be able to produce complete flow battery systems because the economic margins will be better; however, he said that one of the challenges of creating and commercializing flow battery formulations is making them unique enough to be patented.

“We are very open about what exactly our secret sauce is made off,” Beh said. “We have the luxury of being the pioneers of using organic molecules for flow battery cells. So, we have some very strong IP, which has already been granted. And it’s enforceable.”

Beh said the company plans to move its production facilities to Houston, TX, later this year to scale up to MWh-day production in preparation for pilot projects it will announce later. Higher-rate production is expected to reduce costs and make the flow batteries cheaper than vanadium formulations at commercial scale.

Once Quino achieves commercial production, Beh says the company’s organic flow battery will be more attractive than lithium-ion batteries in 8-hour to 24-hour storage applications typical of grid and large industrial requirements. He predicts they will cost half as much and will have three times the battery life with the same cycle rates.

Alternative formulations for flow batteries are coming to market, promising more competition and possibly wider commercial acceptance of the technology. Germany-based CMblu Energy recently announced it is supplying its SolidFlow batteries to Mercedes Benz and utility-scale pilot programs in the U.S.

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