Life Cycle Assessment of Environmental and Human Health Impacts of Flow Battery Energy Storage Production and Use
December 03, 2021
Energy Research and Development (500)
Electric Program Investment Charge - EPIC
Brian Tarroja, Haoyang He, Shan Tian, Oladele Ogunseitan, Julie Schoenung, Scott Samuelsen
California adopted SB 100 as a strategic policy to transition California’s electricity system to a zero-carbon configuration by the year 2045. Energy storage technology is critical to transition to a zero-carbon electricity system due to its ability to stabilize the supply and demand cycles of renewable energy sources. The life cycle impacts of long-duration energy storage, such as flow batteries is not well characterized compared to more established energy storage systems, such as lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries.
This project conducted a comprehensive life cycle assessment – encompassing the materials extraction, manufacturing, and use of three flow battery technologies, each represented by different chemistries: vanadium-redox, zinc-bromide, and all-iron. The results enabled comparisons with other battery systems from a systematic environmental, health impact, and benefits perspective. Among the three flow battery chemistries, production of the vanadium-redox flow battery exhibited the highest impacts on six of the eight environmental indicators, various potential human health hazards, and per-energy-capacity material costs of $491/kWh across its life cycle. Production of the all-iron flow battery, by contrast, exhibited the lowest impacts according to six environmental indicators, as well as the lowest potential human health hazards, and material costs of $196/kWh. Production of the zinc-bromide flow battery exhibited environmental and human health impacts at a level between the other two battery chemistries, and the lowest costs of $153/kWh on a materials basis.
Since these technologies are not as mature as conventional batteries, there is an opportunity to use the results of this study to improve the design and materials for flow batteries manufacturing. In addition, a use-phase analysis demonstrated that flow batteries deployed in the electric grid, will provide significant net environmental benefits for the first ~200 gigawatt hours (GWh) of capacity installed. However, the environmental impacts from the production of these systems will exceed the benefits after this threshold.