VRB Power applied for insolvency in November [PDF]. A combination of a bad economy and a product that was more suited for future markets than today’s electricity generators dealt VRB the final blow. This is bad news for the green energy community.

VRB built flow batteries — utility scale batteries that could last for over 10,000 full charges and discharges. Cost was from $650 per kWh for small-scale systems to as a little as $300 per kWh for large-scale systems.

Admittedly the latter price was for larger systems than anyone ever ordered. It was the perfect utility-scale battery: too heavy for automobile use, but rugged and tolerant of cold, heat, and shocks. It required minimal operations and maintenance.

Even at current costs, these flow batteries could have played a key role in an energy grid based on variable sources. In today’s world, it found a niche market at UPS for remote systems where maintenance was difficult, and for telecom use. Unfortunately its greater reliability could not make up for its higher cost. It was an excellent product, unfortunately mostly suited to a electric system that does not yet exist.

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We can only hope the battery does not end up in patent hell — owned by somebody who neither licenses it nor develops it themselves.