Missouri University of Science and Technology has installed two new advanced lead battery microgrid systems at the campus’s EcoVillage, a “living laboratory” that is home to solar-powered houses designed and built by students. Ameren and the Missouri Public Utility Alliance are part of the collaborative research alliance called the Missouri S&T Industrial Consortium, which is helping with the project, which should be completed by 2021.
“Ameren is excited to see how this emerging technology, which relies on resources produced here in Missouri, will help customers in a real, living environment,” says George Mues, the company’s technology transfer manager, who earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering in 1979 and a master of science degree in engineering management in 1986, both from Missouri S&T. “Microgrids are a growing part of the transformation that's occurring in the electric utility industry. Participating in this initiative will provide an opportunity for Ameren to better understand how this new technology could benefit our customers in the future.”
The consortium also includes the Advanced Lead Acid Battery Consortium (ALABC), a research group and program of the International Lead Association (ILA); The Doe Run Co., a Missouri lead mining and battery recycling company; the Missouri Department of Economic Development Division of Energy (MO DED); and Missouri S&T’s Center for Research in Energy and Environment (CREE).
The members of the consortium are planning to use the microgrids to test advancements in lead battery energy storage for their potential use as a renewable energy source in communities of the future. Two homes occupied by students will be individually supplied with stored electricity from the systems, which run off charging algorithms from a 24-hour, cloud-based control system. ALABC members NorthStar Battery and EnerSys, both global battery manufacturers, and The Doe Run Co. donated the equipment and funding to construct the new microgrids.
Leading with lead
Lead batteries are typically known as a tried-and-true rechargeable energy source. According to the ILA, up to 90 percent of modern lead usage is in the production of batteries. The ILA further states that more lead is produced by recycling than is mined, making it ideal for a circular economy. According to the 2017 National Recycling Rate Study commissioned by Battery Council International (BCI), lead batteries are the most recycled consumer product in the U.S. with a 99.3 percent recycling rate.
“With lead as a Missouri natural resource, this project provides opportunities to better serve our state’s economy and the environment through energy research,” says Dr. Christopher G. Maples, interim chancellor. “This project perfectly aligns with S&T’s mission to integrate education, research and application to serve the state and solve the world’s great challenges.”
Missouri-based microgrid consortium partner Doe Run manages nearly the full lifecycle of lead. “From mining underground deposits to supplying Missouri battery manufacturers with lead and lead alloys, to reclaiming and recycling lead from spent batteries, Doe Run provides more than a $1 billion a year in economic value to Missouri,” says Chris Neaville, the company’s asset development director and a 1987 geological engineering graduate of Missouri S&T.
Microgrids Offer Renewable Energy
Dr. Mehdi Ferdowsi, director of Missouri S&T’s Microgrid Industrial Consortium and a professor of electrical engineering and computing, emphasizes that the new microgrid systems will allow researchers to explore the application of advanced lead batteries in stationary grid-tied applications, as most similar research to date has been with lithium batteries.
“We’ll also be able to conduct research on potential peer-to-peer energy transactions that could result from this use — that is, the energy trading between consumers and ‘prosumers,’ those who both produce and consume the energy,” Ferdowsi says.
“Missouri S&T is at the forefront of microgrid research as an emerging technology solution to the infrastructure challenges facing aging electrical grids,” says Stephane Menand, director of S&T’s renewable energy, Solar Villages and microgrids research, operations and outreach. “Our living laboratories on campus offer full research and demonstration opportunities in this field.”
The EcoVillage homes were designed by S&T students who competed in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, and they draw about 1,000 visitors a year. The two homes powered by the advanced lead microgrids will run alongside four other solar homes exploring alternative technologies. The EcoVillage is the second grouping of student-designed solar homes. Missouri S&T’s first four entries in the Solar Decathlon constitute the Solar Village, located on 10th Street and Poole Avenue, across from the Gale Bullman Building.
“All of us involved in Missouri S&T’s Microgrid Industrial Consortium are tapping the potential of advanced lead batteries to create and convey the knowledge of how they will help meet the world’s need for renewable energy storage,” Menand says.