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5 Energy Storage Players That Won Smart Grid Stimulus Funds

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In an interesting twist involving how the $4 billion in smart grid stimulus funds are being allocated, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu this morning announced that energy storage technology received 16 grants for a total of $185 million from the U.S. federal government. While the list of awards included funding for some well known energy storage projects for big name utilities — PG&E (s PCG) and Southern California Edison — the grant-winners also included a variety unknown and new startups developing cutting edge energy storage tech. Here’s 5 of these energy storage firms that have been thrust into the spotlight with this announcement, and what we know about them:

Seeo: Berkeley-Calif.-based Seeo won a $6.2 million grant to develop and deploy a 25 kWh prototype battery for the power grid using its technology. The startup was founded about two years ago by Mohit Singh, who developed the nano-structured polymer electrolyte as a post-doctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. Singh explained the company’s technology at a UC Berkeley event last May as a nano-structured solid-state battery based on a polymer electrolyte that he said is more stable, safer, and has a higher energy density than current lithium-ion batteries on the market.

The DOE said Seeo’s technology would be used to “demonstrate the substantial improvements offered by solid state lithium-ion technologies for energy density, battery life, safety, and cost,” and the technology would be targeted at “utility-scale operations, particularly community energy storage projects.” Seeo has raised around $10 million from investors including Khosla Ventures.

Primus Power Corporation: Details about Primus Power are scarce, but there is a bit of info out on the Interwebs about the Alameda, Calif-based company. According to this BusinessWeek database, the energy storage company was incorporated this year, and is led by CEO Rick Winter. According to this Indeed job posting, Primus is “is developing a low cost, megaWatt-scale flow battery system that will increase the stability and security of the electric grid, and accelerate adoption of renewable wind and solar energy.?” Primus is backed by Canadian VCs Chrysalix, and Chrysalix says on its site it backed Primus because of its “outstanding low cost.”

Primus has been awarded a $14 million grant to deploy a 25 MW to 75 MW “EnergyFarm” for the Modesto Irrigation District that will replace a $78 million, 50 MW fossil fuel plant. The flow battery farm will be able to provide storage technology to make up for the variable nature of wind power in the area.

Amber Kinetics: The DOE says that Amber will receive a $4 million grant to develop and demonstrate its flywheel energy storage technology for grid applications. Flywheels are spinning discs that store energy and are sometimes used as a backup power source in data centers, but they have less commonly been used for the power grid. Amber will work in partnership with with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on the DOE-backed project, developing flywheel systems with “higher efficiency and cost reductions that will be competitive with pumped hydro technologies.”

According to LLNL Amber Kinetics has also licensed its technology to Hawaiian nonprofit The Arc of Hilo to help provide energy storage for a food processing facility for Hawaiian farmers. The LLNL article says that Amber’s flywheel battery was developed by Dick Post, who has developed a “generator/motor” for a flywheel that “is useful for generating electricity.”

Premium Power: Premium is a relatively well-known 7-year-old company that makes zinc-flow batteries. The company says its energy storage option is lower cost than lead-acid batteries, and costs about the same as pumped hydro storage, “at under 2 cents/kWh, on a long-term basis.” The DOE has allocated Premium $7.32 million for energy storage projects for utilities Sacramento Municipal Utility District and The National Grid. The DOE describes the group of projects as a 3-year-long effort to produce “multi-megawatt, long-duration advanced flow batteries for utility grid applications,” that will include “engineering of fleet control,” and “manufacturing and installation of seven 500-kW/6-hour TransFlow 2000 energy storage systems in California, Massachusetts, and New York.”

SustainX: What makes SustainX interesting is its focus on new innovations for an older technology: compressed air storage technology. As we’ve explained, traditional compressed air energy storage technology involves taking excess energy from a power plant or renewable energy, using it to run air compressors, which pump air into an underground cave where it’s stored under pressure. When the air is released, it usually powers a turbine, creating electricity.

SustainX says its compressed air technology doesn’t need to be paired with a secondary heat source like a gas combustion turbine, but can generate electricity “directly from the expansion of the compressed air itself.” The company explains the technology as “isothermal gas cycling coupled with staged hydraulic compression and expansion.” SustainX also says its system stores energy done above ground in gas cylinders, which jumps of the hurdle of the long lead time for permitting (which I explained as the biggest barrier for compressed air storage here).

The startup is backed by RockPort Capital, Polaris Venture Partners, Angeli Parvi and the National Science Foundation. The DOE allocated $5.4 million for SustainX to build a 1 MW/4-hour compressed air storage system “to support the integration of renewable energy sources onto the grid.

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