EPA honors Mukilteo energy storage company

UniEnergy Technologies brings green battery systems to market
By Nicholas Johnson | Jun 14, 2017
Photo by: Ben Zweig Several members of UniEnergy Technologies’ leadership team accepted the EPA’s Green Chemistry Challenge Award during a ceremony Monday, June 12, at the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute’s 21st-annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference. From left are American Chemical Society CEO Tom Connelly Jr., PNNL Chief Engineer Vincent Sprenkle, UniEnergy CEO Gary Yang, Imre Gyuk of the U.S. Department of Energy, UniEnergy CTO Liyu Li, Wendy Cleland-Hamnett of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and UniEnergy Senior VP of Global Sales Blake Frye.

A Mukilteo company that’s forging the future of energy storage knows firsthand the value of public-private partnerships.

The battery technology that UniEnergy Technologies has successfully commercialized over the past few years was originally developed at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland.

In fact, the two men who founded the company in 2012 – Gary Yang and Liyu Li – previously worked at that lab and helped develop the massive batteries their company now sells to utility-, commercial- and industrial-scale customers around the world.

“The Germans are really good at the public-private partnership, and so are the Japanese and the South Koreans,” Russ Weed, the company’s vice president of business development and marketing, said while on a business trip in Germany.

“If we want really good family-wage jobs with health care in this country, we need to get better at this ourselves.”

Yang and Li were in Washington, D.C. on Monday, June 12, along with other company leaders and scientists from the PNNL, to accept the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Chemistry Challenge Award for small business.

The award recognizes landmark green chemistry technologies – such as UniEnergy’s advanced vanadium redox flow battery – that turn potential environmental issues into business opportunities, spurring innovation and economic development.

“This is recognition of how research and development that is supported by the federal government can get technology to a point where private industry can run with it,” Weed said, noting that in 2013 the PNNL won a Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer for taking its technology to the private sector.

The EPA award, however, focuses on the technology’s environmental benefits. The company’s batteries don’t degrade, they’re almost entirely recyclable and they work in nearly any temperature, Weed said. Ultimately, they allow cities and businesses more access to stored energy, making it easier to rely on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power rather than coal or nuclear power.

“It used to be that the only game in town was lead acid batteries,” Weed said, noting that those batteries store energy in a solid electrode, whereas the vanadium redox flow batteries store energy in a liquid electrolyte solution.

Over the past three years, Lithium-ion batteries have dominated the market, but UniEnergy says its technology is beginning to gain ground.

“We are competing against Lithium batteries as the incumbent, and that’s not easy because there are some very big companies behind Lithium,” Weed said.

So far, the company has installed four systems – one in Italy, one in Germany and two in Washington, including one in Everett for Snohomish County PUD and another in Pullman for Avista Utilities.

The company, which started with two employees and has grown to more than 60, brought in $10 million in revenue last year and is aiming for $100 million annually by 2019, meaning more jobs at the company’s 60,000-square-foot home in Harbour Pointe.

Weed said the company has been scrappy in its effort to compete with Lithium-ion batteries.

“We like being scrappy,” Weed said. “You have to be when you’re the David against Goliath, and our rocks are getting bigger.”

Washington, Weed said, is currently positioned to lead the revolution in energy storage.

“This is a fast growing part of the economy. Just like the telecommunications industry went through a revolution in the ‘90s, the energy industry is going through a revolution as we speak.”

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