Saved by cell-off

UK-developed electricity storage system Regenesys has been saved from the technological scrapheap after being bought by a Canadian company.

Vancouver-based VRB Power Systems said Regenesys, which is billed as the world’s biggest battery, would be added to its existing portfolio of electrochemical storage technologies.

Regenesys had been in limbo since its German parent company RWE pulled the plug on further funding for the project earlier this year, declaring it peripheral to its core business strategy even though it was on the brink of full-scale commercialisation.

VRB paid £700,000 for the patents, designs and assembly equipment associated with Regenesys, which just a few years ago was being spoken of as a potential £1bn business in its own right.

Regenesys is a regenerative fuel cell system that converts electrical power into chemical potential energy and back again via a reversible electrochemical reaction. The system was designed to store between 5MW and 500MW of power for periods ranging from a few seconds to 12 hours.

Innogy, the UK-based utility that spent a decade developing Regenesys before itself being bought by RWE, saw big potential for the technology to act as an ‘electricity warehouse’, storing energy at periods of low demand and releasing it into the grid when a surge in demand occurred.

Energy storage is also seen as a vital component in the growth of renewable energy sources such as wind power.

Regenesys’s new Canadian owner said there were ‘significant synergies’ between the UK system and its own flow battery technology. The VRB technology is suited to smaller applications in the 5kW-10MW range. The Canadian firm said the addition of Regenesys’s larger capacity would allow it to provide ‘utility-scale’ systems.

VRB said full-scale Regenesys systems could be brought to the market in three to five years. However, what was supposed to be the world’s first Regenesys facility, at Little Barford in Cambridgeshire, was not included in the deal and remains under RWE’s ownership.A spokesman for the utility said there were no plans to resume development of Regenesys at Little Barford.

The future of a second Regenesys power plant at the Columbus Air Force base in Mississippi looks brighter, however. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the US utility giant, planned to bring a Regenesys plant on-line soon after Little Barford, and was known to be dismayed when work on the technology abruptly halted.

A VRB spokesman confirmed that TVA had already been in touch with the Canadians to request a proposal for ways to take the project forward.

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