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How Australia could become manufacturing hub of battery storage

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The US developer of liquid metal batteries – a potentially cheap alternative to the current technologies being deployed in energy markets – says that Australia could become a leading manufacturing base for battery storage.

sadowayDonald Sadoway, a professor from the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, is seeking to strike up research partnerships with Australian universities and secure funding $50 million for a pilot manufacturing plant of the liquid flow batteries.

He is also proposing establishing a test facility near the NSW town of Hay to install the LMB batteries with a solar farm and deliver power around the clock – and to demonstrate the “base load” potential of solar.

The LMBs are being hailed as a potentially low cost option for utility-scale battery storage. That is because the nature of the technology means that they can cycle – or discharge – thousands of times without having its capacity reduced.

That means that even though the LMBs might cost more upfront, they will have a far longer life, reducing the levellised costs of the technology. Indeed, Sadoway’s team says such batteries could last 300 years.

The LMBs are currently being brought into commercial deployment by the company that Sathoway co-founded, the US-based Ambri.

But Sadoway argues that the LMBs should be manufactured in the same markets that they are deployed, and he sees Australia, with its vast and expensive grid, and excellent renewable resources, as the perfect market.

“There is a growing need for sustainable sources of electricity and storage is the missing piece,” Sadoway told RenewEconomy in an interview ahead of his visit to Australia.

Wind and solar are obvious substitutes for the coal-fired generation that currently dominates in Australia’s electricity market, but because they are intermittent storage will be required as penetration rates increase.

And because of its vast distances, Australians also pay huge amounts for the cost of delivery of their electricity which have to be transported across hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers of poles and wires.

Australian network operators are already looking at battery storage as a way of reducing the need of upgrading their poles and wires. Ergon is installing up to one hundred 100kWh systems in Queensland, while other network operators such as South Australia’s Power Networks see battery storage being deployed to help develop micro grids, and take advantage of local renewable generation.

Sadoway is in late-stage negotiations with the ANU about a four-year joint research project, and says it is possible that Australia could become a hub for manufacturing the batteries.

He is proposing a $50 million manufacturing plant as an initial step, but sees the market for such batteries in Australia in the billions of dollars. (Australian networks spent $45 billion on grid upgrades and extensions just in the last five years).

Sadoway intends to speak with government decision makers regarding funding for the research project (which he budgeted at around $9 million), which would include the working test site in Hay.

Sadoway notes that city folk are currently subsidising the cost of the regional networks in regional areas. In Queensland and Western Australia, for instance, it amounts to more than $600 million in each state each year.

And as renewable production, and opportunities, increase, and the grid continues to age, cost effective grid storage presents a solution.

Sadoway says the LMB will likely be first deployed at scale later this year. A 100kWh facility is being installed at a military base at Cape Cod, where solar and wind are also deployed, and another installation will go in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.

Sadoway says the advantages of the LMB are that they are low cost, because they use cheap and abundant materials, have a simple design, a long lifespan, and are flexible.

ambri

They are also built in modular systems, have no moving parts, and they are unique. It is the only storage solution commercialized or in development where all three active components – both electrodes and the electrolyte separating them – are in liquid state when the battery operates.

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  • Blair Donaldson

    I would love to see this technology developed here, creating a new industry and many jobs.

    • Harry Verberne

      Absolutely! Proposals such as these represent an opportunity to develop a possible “game changing” technology with new, more sustainable jobs, reduced emissions and lower household and industry electricity costs.

      There are also, inevitably, risks that need to be considered and managed astutely.

      • Blair Donaldson

        Yes Harry, invariably new technologies have their teething problems but it would be wonderful if Australia could be at the forefront of a world changing energy storage and supply system instead of buying ideas, technology and jobs from overseas. I wonder if our political masters will have the brains to do the right thing? I guess they will have to get past the idea that coal is good for us, first.

        • SunGod

          Yeah, at this point, both the Coalition and Labor represent big obstacles to Australian technological progress in renewable energy.

  • Matthew Dawes

    The agricultural applications of this technology are exciting. When the sun is shining isn’t the best time to irrigate.

    • Blair Donaldson

      I’d like to see an incorporated with solar and wind. It would be a game changer for certain.

    • Maurice Oldis

      Havnt noticed too many irrigators concerned about this-spaying into strong winds etcetc

      • Matthew Dawes

        Most farmers irrigating on hot windy days are irrigating around the clock trying to keep the water up to the crops. This is because of a lack of capital to invest in more efficient systems.

  • 50Something

    If a 200 kW battery & 20 kVA of panels could be done $50000 ish in the future then that would be a life time of electricity, even a power pig like me could then go 5 days without sunshine no requirement for the grid or government policy.

    • Chris B

      12 hours without sunshine is sufficient for most. They’re looking at a 250USD/kWh target, and 20kWh would be ample to cover night time use for even the most inefficiently insulated northern Queensland homes without too many lifestyle changes.

  • Chris Fraser

    Can the liquid system battery go in a locally-produced family EV ? Could be a growth market there, too.

    • Stan Hlegeris

      I think you’ll find flow batteries are better for fixed installations because of their volume, mass, and, of course, the fact that they’re full of liquid. But the fixed installation market is still plenty big. Brisbane company Redflow aims to do something similar with Vanadium flow batteries. The more people working on this, the better.

      • cravenhaven

        Redflow batteries are NOT vanadium flow, they are Zinc Bromide flow batteries. Currently operating in quite a few test sites, and manufacturing agreements already in place with volume producers.

      • Calamity_Jean

        The liquid metal batteries specifically discussed are also freaking hot, hotter than boiling water. A serious hazard in mobile use.

        “The more people working on this, the better.”

        Amen to that! The market for immobile batteries is going to be HUGE once the price comes down enough.

      • JonathanMaddox

        Liquid metal batteries have essentially the same advantages as flow batteries, plus the advantage of much simpler (and probably cheaper) chemistry. Liquid electrodes (not requiring specific solid structure for effective operation, nor susceptible to deterioration of that structure) are also another major advantage, shared with some but not all flow batteries.

        The disadvantages of liquid metal batteries are very high temperatures and being very very heavy. Both of these are show-stoppers for most mobility applications (where lithium batteries seem to be sweeping all before them) but are quite easily manageable at stationary installations.

    • WR

      The battery uses high temperature (~400C) molten salts and metals. The materials form 3 layers in liquid phase that are separated only by their different densities and miscibilities. So the batteries have to be kept still and are only for grid-scale use. There anticipated advantage over current tech is that they should have relatively low material and manufacturing costs, along with long lifetime.

    • JonathanMaddox

      Too dang heavy.

      • Guest

        Going to sink through the Earth’s crust?

        • JonathanMaddox

          Not quite, but heavy enough to cause significant performance issues in vehicles, whether compared with liquid fuels and/or lithium-ion batteries.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I replied to the content of your comment, not the context. (Replying from email.)

            After I realized you were talking about EV use I deleted my comment.

          • JonathanMaddox

            On some Disqus forums, deleting comments doesn’t work, as I found to my extreme embarrassment when I wrote something here on RenewEconomy which sounded way too much like a threat and wanted to withdraw it. The attempt merely changes the apparent authorship from your username to “Guest”, but the comment itself remains. Not entirely satisfactory.

          • that’s the way disqus works. If you need something deleted, i can do it.

          • JonathanMaddox

            I’m not sure really, but thanks for offering. That bird has flown.

            This is the comment in question… http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/is-this-the-death-of-australias-renewable-energy-industry-83477#comment-1624951814

  • Rob G

    There really is a lot of scope for storage. I think of portable storage used in remote mining areas as a great replacement for dirty diesel when used with solar. And in areas where storms and floods have been and portable storage can be brought in. Even dirty coal fire would benefit from storage.

  • This is great tech and a wonderful opportunity for Australia. LMBs are explained in this TED talk: buff.ly/15uADNq

  • sue goodrick

    What about Australian company. Redflow…..?

  • Colin Atkins

    Can you see the Abbott government putting money into this? Sadly, I think not.

  • Wilf Gerrard-Staton

    It should be remembered that a part of the $45 billion spent on upgrades was because of the Electricity companies (especially in NSW) were gaming the system with infrastructure upgrades that were not necessary. They could do this, pay government interest rates for the capital costs yet pass cost on to customers at the much higher commercial rate.

    See: http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2014/july/1404136800/jess-hill/power-corrupts