Aim-listed miner Bushveld Minerals’ 84%-owned energy subsidiary, Bushveld Energy, will be commissioning its first utility-scale vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) for testing by State-owned power utility Eskom in May, says Bushveld Energy CEO Mikhail Nikomarov.

This commission has been in development since 2014. From this, Bushveld Energy was formed in 2015, and partnered with UniEnergy Technologies (UET) and the Industral Development Corporation (IDC) in 2016. Bushveld Energy focuses on energy storage, whearas Bushveld Minerals primarily focused on mining. IDC New Industries strategic business unit head Christo Fourie explains this shift in focus by saying that he corporation wanted to “create value through the beneficiation of locally available minerals such as vanadium, manganese and nickel” – which could assist in developing a local industry.

“The partnership with Bushveld Energy is strategic because of the mining assets of its corporate group and the possibility of providing either localised feedstock or electrolyte in the future. Further, the growing demand for energy storage in South Africa and [on] the rest of the continent presents a significant growth opportunity,” says UET business development and marketing VP Russ Weed.

If successful, this commission will greatly contribute to creating a vanadium value-chain in South Africa. The VRFB’s performance, abilities and maturity will be tested by Eskom’s testing and development centre in Rosherville to reveal how it can be used for broad commercial use in South Africa and the African continent.

This commission follows market studies into the global vanadium electrolyte demand and requirements. “Eskom identified energy storage requirements almost a decade ago and established the Rosherville facility to investigate storage solutions. Following our visit to the facility in 2015, we considered the possibility of a trial as a means of demonstrating the technical and financial value of VRFB,” explains Nikomarov.

The VRFB will have a peak power of 120 kW and 450 kWh peak energy storage and is being manufactured by Bushveld Energy’s US-based technology partner, UniEnergy Technologies (UET). The trial will take 18 months, after which the system will be redeployed locally to a commercial site.

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