When it comes to clean energy, wind and solar installations always top the list. But with their many benefits comes one problem that needs to be solved. How can you store energy if the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing?
Why Bill Gates Backs ESS?
ESS claims to have a solution! The company has proposed a solution to the critical problem faced by renewable energy. They’re proposing that the key that can help unlock renewable energy’s full potential is their energy storage batteries.
These batteries are made of water, salt, and iron. The elements used to make them are cheaper and more readily available than those used in today’s batteries, namely cobalt and lithium.
ESS has gained the attention of powerful individuals. Business magnates such as Bill Gates and Softbank have invested around $57 million in the energy-storage battery maker. ESS trades under its ticker symbol GWH on the New York Stock Exchange.
ESS was founded by a married couple and business partners, Craig Evans and Julia Song back in 2011. The company started out at their garage in Portland, Oregon before moving to the Portland State Business Accelerator. Now, the ESS headquarters spans a massive 200,000 square feet.
Among its notable investors are Gates’ SB Energy, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and BASF.
Elements Needed For Iron Flow Battery Development
If there’s something that ESS is extremely proud of, it’s being able to create a long-lasting iron flow battery that’s made of materials that are readily available.
Traditional batteries contain lithium, a resource that’s costly and not readily accessible. On the other hand, ESS flow batteries have better operational life and are more cost-effective because the electrolyte that connects the two ends of the battery is made of water, salt, and iron. Not only that, it’s non-toxic and safe. It doesn’t get blown up in fire and it doesn’t trigger fire either.
Lithium and cobalt are common materials used in making conventional batteries. The problem is lithium may be in short supply because of the battery demand for the production of electric vehicles.
As for cobalt, there’s a social and moral issue concerning how it’s obtained. Some supply chains are on the hot seat because of reportedly using forced labour and even child labour under extremely harsh conditions. Some batteries also contain vanadium, an element which is very expensive.
Now all these elements are promising, but their costs can’t match the affordability that ESS batteries can offer.
How Do ESS Batteries Work?
The concept of iron flow battery has existed since the 1970s. However, scientists fell short in solving some technical issues, such as electrolyte fluid imbalance and buildup, which would render the early iterations of batteries useless over time.
ESS has found a workaround for this problem and it involves a proton pump. They developed a way to allow the system to keep the electrolyte clean while the battery is in use.
The company managed to get nearly $3 million in grant funding for the early research on their technology. They’ve worked on it for a decade, and their critical breakthroughs include the proton pump.
ESS energy can store energy between four to 12 hours. It’s significantly longer than traditional batteries, which can only store energy between 2 and 4 hours.
Aside from their cost-effectivity and long storage duration, ESS batteries are also resilient. Their capacity will not change for up to two decades. The same cannot be said about lithium batteries. Mobile phone users know for a fact that the same thing can’t be said of lithium batteries. Their phone batteries, which contain lithium may give 10 hours now but it’ll be much less after a year.
ESS is working on scaling its business. But the company is promising, which is why it’s not surprising that people like Bill Gates are willing to invest in their stocks.
Recommended books for further reading:
- The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns (Little Books. Big Profits
- Shares Made Simple: A beginner’s guide to the stock market
- How to Make Money in Stocks: A Winning System In Good Times And Bad
- The Barefoot Investor: The Only Money Guide You’ll Ever Need
- Investing Demystified: How to create the best investment portfolio whatever your risk level
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