Can the batteries made by Invinity last forever?
At first glance, the East Vancouver facility of Invinity Energy Systems seems a little empty. High ceilings, nondescript white walls and sturdy grey floors with enough space to comfortably house 15 cars come together to paint the picture of a warehouse yet to be filled. But this 16,000-square-foot cleantech factory is complete, and it’s generating a shocking number of vanadium flow batteries (VFBs): enough to power 3,300 electric vehicles a year.
During a factory tour in June, CEO Larry Zulch explained that VFBs are a type of energy storage solution that local innovators like Invinity are channelling to make renewable power accessible when “the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.”
Groups of press and tech enthusiasts toured through the facility’s production line and watched demonstrations of how VFBs store energy in a low-maintenance solution that doesn’t degrade. Chief technology officer Andy Klassen suggested that the batteries (which come in six-pack units) are relatively fire-resistant (or at least pose a benign risk) because the energy is separated and stored in small quantities. These units can be stacked on top of each other in order to scale and meet the needs of any low-carbon energy project. In fact, the company’s team of 75 is already shipping the batteries out of Vancouver to meet a growing global demand for lithium-ion battery alternatives.
As of July, the company had delivered 35.2 megawatt hours (MWh) of batteries, with an additional 43.9 MWh in construction. “In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t that much, but it’s a pretty big number in the world of alternate new battery technology,” says Klassen. With a chemical engineering degree from the University of Calgary and over 15 years of experience developing batteries, Klassen helped co-found Avalon Battery in 2013. Avalon merged with U.K.-based RedT in 2020 to create Invinity.
“The fact that we made over 2,500 cell stacks and tested them exactly the same way—that’s a real achievement in vanadium flow battery technology,” Klassen adds.
On top of its Vancouver hub—which can produce 200 MWh of VFBs a year (a.k.a. the aforementioned 3,300 EVs)—Invinity also has offices and facilities in London, San Francisco, Melbourne, Bathgate in Scotland and Suzhou in China. The company’s goal is to supercharge any commercial, industrial or grid-scale site in the world: like providing four VFBs to help Scotland’s water supplier decarbonize its water treatment.
But even as VFBs are arguably the future of long-duration renewable energy, B.C.’s access to hydro hasn’t left any space to apply premium batteries like these in the province—yet.
Also present that warm afternoon in June was Todd Sayers, deputy executive director of the B.C. Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE). He addressed the crowd with a surprise: CICE, which is known for supporting cleantech innovators with non dilutive funding, has committed $500,000 toward Invinity’s next-generation battery product, Mistral, to fast-track local innovations that can accelerate a transition to net-zero.
Klassen credits Vancouver’s position as a leader in electrochemical battery storage to the talent and resources available here. But he’s split on whether the province is adequately nurturing decarbonization initiatives: “There is support and we’re happy for that support—as we announced today,” he said at the press event. “But would we like to see more? Yes, absolutely.”