GE and NGK spare no expense on molten salt batteries

Hustle and bustle in Schenectady, NY, USA

“GE Energy Storage is now open for business”, one can read in a recent General Electric video. The production commenced in September 2011. The Durathon™ battery factory officially opened on July 10, 2012, in Schenectady, NY. $100m were initially invested. Additional $70m are already committed to double the plant capacity.

It took three years at GE’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY, to improve and perfect the technology bought in 2007 from Beta Research & Development, a UK company. And one years to build the plant.

Hundreds of new jobs were created. There are today 45 job offers on GE’s website. At full capacity, the factory will employ 450 workers and drive thousands of additional supply chain jobs throughout the region.

The first order was signed by Megatron Federal, a South African company, which will install 6,000 batteries in Nigeria to keep its telecom installations running during all too common power disruptions, decreasing its dependence on diesel backup generators, lowering fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Orders raise to $63m from about ten or so telecom customers.

Slow and steady in Nagoya, Japan

In his Fiscal Year 2012 2nd Quarter Results presentation, NGK Insulators Ltd. explains his strategy to reignite NAS batteries market:

  • Future trend:
    • Increasing overseas demand
  • Objectives:
    • To restore market confidence by implementing safety measures
    • To Expand sales of NAS batteries overseas and in renewable energy field
  • First steps:
    • Production priority put on safety measures
    • Resume production from November 2012
    • Overseas orders deferred to next year.

After the extraordinary FY11 (fiscal year from April 2010 to March 2011) losses of ¥4.8bn (€46m) related to NAS battery safety measures, sales of NAS batteries recovered at a slow pace in FY12 at ¥0.9bn (€9m) – see the figure opposite from NGK Insulators Ltd. But far beyond FY10 sales (¥19.7bn – €190m).

The deferment of order due to the priority put on safety measures is reflected in FY13 sales forecast that is as low as ¥0.2bn (€2m).

In NGK’s Summary of Consolidated Financial Results for the Six Months ended September 30, 2012, published on 31.10.2012, ¥38bn (€367m) are provisioned for NAS battery safety measures, down from ¥57bn (€552m) initially end of December 2011.

In nine months, 34% of the initial provision for NAS safety were invested. Taking into account NGK strategy explained above, one can expect that the remaining efforts would speed up, and that one year from now would be sufficient to completely solve safety issues. This assumption is in line with NGK announcement to defer overseas orders to next year.

The Hare and the Tortoise – Our Prediction

While GE is new in the race and try to force the pace, NGK, as usual, adopts an extremely cautious approach. Based on the moral of the tale, “slow and steady wins the race”, one could conclude that NGK is in best position.

But it would be too hastily, because GE and NGK are not (yet) playing in the same league:

  • NGK’ NAS batteries minimum size is one MW. The module are rated 50 kW, but they are not sold individually.
  • GE’s Durathon battery module delivers a few kW. Multiple Durathon modules can be connected in parallel if more capacity is needed. But they cannot be connected in series for higher voltage. MW range capacity then requires further developments.

They will then both win the race. Each on his own playground. NGK in large-scale grid applications, including integration with wind farms and large PV plants; and GE in medium-scale energy applications, like what they are doing in the telecom sector. But one day, both companies will meet in the same league. Then…

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

About Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH Owner & Director

8 Responses to GE and NGK spare no expense on molten salt batteries

  1. Malcolm J Shemmans says:

    This generation of Na based batteries can either be NaS as in NGK’s battery or SMC (sodium metal chloride in GE’s battery and also that of FIAMM).

    The NaS technology used by NGK ‘s 1.2 kWh cells was originally based on similar technology developed by Brown Boveri in Heidelberg Germany (now ABB). The ABB automotive version had smaller cells (80 Wh) for better power delivery and was used by Ford in its ECOSTAR pure electric small van from 1990 to 1995. In its vehicle package it was 110 Wh/kg at the system level which is higher than today’s Li-ion. However a hot battery is not convenient for a personal car because it must be regularly plugged in (ideally each night) otherwise it freezes. Nevertheless the fleet of ECOSTARs was technically very good but they were taken out of service when ABB decided to discontinue this battery development. NGK continued the development of the large cell utility version and it has become the predominant large energy storage system.

    NaS if it becomes overheated due to failure or damage will probably go into thermal runaway and destroy itself by fire. This fire unlike Li-ion develops quite slowly and it will probably release SO2 and H2S depending on the situation. ABB and Ford learned to prevent thermal runaway and fire in the automotive designs with active and passive design features. NGK have announced that they will use additional fire prevention features in their multi-MWh stationary batteries.

    The SMC (sodium metal chloride, or more generally sodium metal halide) batteries if built correctly have nothing to burn below about 700 C and so are a preferred technology for buses etc that will be plugged in every night, and for grid connected utility applications over a wide range of sizes. Because their packaging is thermally managed they are particularly suitable for telecoms standby in hot or cold climates. The GE technology and the FIAMM technology were based on the ZEBRA technology originally from South Africa, UK and Germany. The Wh/kg in packaged form is usually > 120 Wh/kg. This technology has proven to be robust.

    The NaS and SMC technologies although having been around for several decades are still in the original early development form of cylindrical ceramic electrolytes and metal cans packaged in insulated steel boxes. Metal to ceramic sealing is difficult and they have not yet followed the production engineering developments seen for lead acid or NiMH where cell packaging and manufacture becomes mono-bloc. The present construction methods are expensive and particularly for SMC one can expect to see developments to reduce complexity and optimize materials. The products will then become more affordable and the Wh/kg and W/kg will increase to possibly twice the present levels.

  2. batienergy says:

    how reliable are sodium metal halide batteries in general?
    what are the current prices per KW or MW of size
    Can you please put some remarks on this..

    will these stationary batteries available across the globe? by when?

    Thank you for the interesting article. Energy Storage is going to be a Vital Issue , to support renewable energy integration with the Mainstream Energy.

    • Dupont says:

      There are limited large-scale experiences with metal halide batteries, but the technology is not new and well under control. The key issue is to optimise the whole system in order to reduce the production costs.

      Reliability should be (very) good. For instance, NAS batteries, which use similar technology, are well deployed (more than 300 MW around the world – The first industrial installation was commissioned in 1995. Except one fire incident last year, the reliability is high, with little maintenance (one site visit per year).

      Cost of NAS: 3500 US$/kW turnkey (with the substation). No info on GE product available yet.

      • batienergy says:

        Thank You,, for the Information.
        A long way to go for power storage technologies to make life more easier and greener…
        I would love to see the contribution of HHO generators as well, by some new innovation in production of Hydrogen. that would be really essential for solar-pv and wind power decentralized Installations.

  3. John Battaglini says:

    The GE Durathon is also used in higher power/higher energy MW /MWh scale applications. This includes solar, wind, microgrids, utility and energy management applications.

    • Dupont says:

      Dear John, could you tell us more about large-scale applications of GE Duraton? I’ve seen indeed that there are included in your portfolio, but I couldn’t find any project reference? Did GE Energy Storage already implemented MW-range Durathon facilities? Or a pilot project?

  4. Pingback: NGK Spark Plugs Announces Expansion | Auto Ecommerce Trade Association

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