Space the latest frontier for flow batteries

  • Date: May 29, 2019

Following announcements from various manufacturers of deployments and partnerships in new territories, the latest wave of flow battery news includes an agreement that could put batteries in space for mission critical applications at the likes of NASA and the International Space Station.

Flow batteries are made with a variety of electrolyte materials stored in tanks, offering a possibility to cost effectively store more than eight hours of electricity and go through thousands of charging cycles without degradation. To scale up the size of a system and therefore the amount of energy stored, the size of the tanks used simply needs to be scaled up.

Nickel-zinc flow battery manufacturer ZAF emailed this week to say that through a strategic partnership with aerospace propulsion company Aerojet Rocketdyne, it is working on an energy storage system for space.

“Most recently, we designed, built, and tested an integrated BMS for the International Space Station that was delivered in January 2018. With this new ZAF agreement, we’re expanding our power systems portfolio,” Aerojet Rocketdyne systems CEO Eileen Drake said.

ZAF’s president Randy Moore said that nickel-zinc batteries make an ideal replacement for lead acid systems, offering improvements in performance, weight and life-cycle measurements. The new systems combine ZAF batteries with Aerojet’s battery management system (BMS). ZAF’s devices do not need a BMS for cell balancing and for safety while charging, but the BMS does offer the chance to control the battery smartly, extending battery life and enhancing reliability, the company claims.

It’s an interesting circular development, with flow battery technology having first emerged from NASA laboratories some decades ago and fallen out of use by the agency until a handful of private companies picked up the idea for commercialisation.

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