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Battery storage “gigafactory” planned for Darwin for 2018

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Australia’s first battery storage “gigafactory” is likely to be built in Darwin, with a new consortium planing to establish a large-scale lithium-ion manufacturing plant by the end of 2018.

Energy Renaissance, a company backed by engineering group UGL (now owned by CIMIC) says the first phase of the $100 million plant will create four distinct production lines, and will target niche utility and industrial scale markets in Australia and Asia.

Energy Renaissance is partnering with US battery storage company 24M, and is said to have the enthusiastic support, if not the financial backing, of the new Labor government, which also has a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030.

“Renaissance One” – as it will be known – is one of at least two “gigafactory” proposals for Australia, with the Boston Energy consortium led by former Macquarie Group property guru Bill Moss looking at a much larger 15GWh production line in Townsville.

It also comes on the same day that a 5MW battery storage installation was announced for Alice Springs, where Vector Energy won a tender for LG Chem batteries that will allow a significant increase in solar capacity in the city, already with the highest penetration in the country.

Renaissance Energy managing director Brian Craighead  said Australia was a logical place to build a gigafactory, given its obvious demand for battery storage, its abundant resources of lithium, cobalt and graphite, and its proximity to Asia markets.

“Australia is the only country that you could throw a wall around and still have all the materials you need – cobalt and graphite and lithium – for battery storage,” Craighead told RenewEconomy in an interview.

Battery storage is expected to be a huge market in Australia, with the likes of the CSIRO predicting more than 90GWh of battery storage, much of it “behind the meter” by households and businesses, but also partnered with large scale renewables and in grids.

Large arrays are already being planned for large-scale solar plants across the country. Lyon Group has announced projects totalling 1GW of battery storage to accompany its planned solar installations, to help with grid security, offset network upgrades, smoothing out solar power and shifting loads.

The factory has been more than two years in the planning. Chair Su McCluskey, the former head of Regional Australia, stood down in 2015 to “pursue other opportunities” and this turns out to be one of them. UGL has a 10 per cent stake, while the remaining owners, including McCluskey and Craighead, are private.

Craighead said the factory will focus on the utility, industrial, defence, telco, mining, and off-grid sectors – and not the household market. Around 70 per cent of production will be targeted for export.

energy renaissance battery storage

The technology – semi-solid lithium-ion – will be designed specifically to take into account the warmer climate in Australia and Asia. Its target market means container-style installations full of batteries, and temperature control is the key and air-conditioners a significant draw on resources.

“Batteries in Australia are still pretty expensive. And although the cost per kWh is coming down due to the scale of manufacturing, most of the chemistries have an operating window of around 25°C. So y0u need air conditioning to keep temperatures down, and that’s a significant parasitic load.”

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based 24M describes its manufacturing process as significantly more efficient than conventional lithium-ion products.

“The simple truth is that lithium-ion batteries are made the wrong way,” it says on its website.

“The process is cumbersome. It’s wasteful. It’s woefully inefficient. 24M’s novel manufacturing process strips out the waste, speeds production and reduces the overall footprint to slash today’s lithium-ion battery costs by 50% and accelerate its adoption.”

Craighead expects to have up to seven different production lines producing niche products – all of around 150MWh each. He expects four such lines to be in place by the opening late next year.

He says Darwin was chosen over other port cities, such as Newcastle, Geelong and Gladstone, because of the availability of raw materials, the proximity to Asia markets, the local engineering expertise and the support of the government.

The size of the plant is dwarfed by the 50GWh Tesla gigafactory currently being completed in Nevada, but that factory has a guaranteed market for Tesla electric vehicles and its Powerpack and Powerwall products.

“Energy storage is the key to the future,” he says. “There are times when pumped hydro works perfectly, time for hybrid plants, and times for battery storage. Stored energy makes so many things possible that weren’t possible before.”

   

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  • john

    A very interesting proposal and their thoughts about proximity to Asia does make sense.
    The cost structure will have to be tightly monitored to compete with Chinese manufacture.
    This is a second factory that the backers have enough confidence in a market that they are going ahead.
    As Australia has traditionally been remarkable for early take up of new technology, it will prove interesting to see just what percentage of penetration storage gains, particularly in the light industrial, large shopping center and commercial sector.
    These sectors would appear to be the market that this factory is aiming to target.

  • Tom

    Expect resistance from the federal government. A factory might have UNION MEMBERS in it!

    • Alastair Leith

      I wonder if NT unions are supportive… ETU in WA hardly a fan of domestic chemical battery storage… want to apply the “hand-break”

  • Kaslo

    There’s a video of the proposed factory here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhCeDQxDd48

    • howardpatr

      A long way between funny video and a factory – would want to see a factory built by NEC, based upon the 24M technology, first.

  • GlennM

    Good news….but.
    If Tesla’s factory is 50GWh….and this one is 4X 150MWh=600MWh = 0.6 GWh…

    Is is really a “gigafactory” is it not really a “megafactory” at about 1/100th of the Tesla factory… should we call it the MiniME factory.

    • My_Oath

      “4X 150MWh”

      Where do you get that figure?

      The quote in the article is “seven different production lines producing niche products – all of around 150MWh each” which means 1050 MWh.

      • GlennM

        . “He expects four such lines to be in place by the opening late next year.” 4 X 150 MWH….you do the math.

        • My_Oath

          And Tesla’s Gigafactory isn’t 50GWhrs yet either.

          • GlennM

            Are you seriously comparing the second biggest building in the world and a 5 billion dollar factory with this development ?

            As I said it is good that this is happening, and I hope hundreds more such factories are built world wide…but if you believe this is a gigafactory…

            then I have a bridge to sell you…discounted just for you !

          • Alastair Leith

            I do believe there’s no official definition of what a gigafactory entails! Gigawatt or GWh scale would seem to be a part of it.

          • My_Oath

            No. You made that comparison.

            The name Gigafactory was coined for a reason. This proposal fits the definition.

          • michael

            tesla fanbois are easily upset

            how many GW of battery has that factory produced so far?

            would the 15GWh factory in townsville be big enough? next you’ll start pulling apart the marketing exercise that was the 100MW batter down in SA that the saviour Musk has landed with the quickest ‘tender’ in government history

            this proposed factory is great news and battery advancement is the last piece of the puzzle for renewables to really explode into being major grid suppliers

    • howardpatr

      Go read the 24M website – especially what it says about the expected size of factory.

    • Allan Barr

      Tesla will be around 150 GW by 2020, 50 by 2018.

    • Alastair Leith

      0.6 GWh rounds up to 1 GWh. 1 gigafactory

  • Mags

    Real Jobs and Growth Mr Turnbull, in a way that is good for us all and the planet.

  • howardpatr

    Very interesting to see the involvement of 24M. 24M is working with NEC on manufacturing based on the technology. 24M actually say that their technology might well spell the end of gigafactories and production from far lower CapEx.

    Lets hope it becomes a major ESS breakthrough that also brings manufacturing to Australia.

  • Brunel

    So I was correct all along.

    AUS has free trade agreements with more nations than USA does – thus the batteries can be exported to many nations tarriff free!

  • PDRD

    Please restrict the use of the term “Gigafactory” to a Tesla plant or at the very least a plant that can put out 30+GW p.a. Musk should have copyrighted that term – he has deserved it with putting $5B investment years before anyone else.

  • Richard

    This is a croc. Looking for suckers.

    Battery production is already in full swing in Asia. It will never compete.

    The best hope for Australia is we get a Tesla GF

  • Greg Hudson

    Watched the ‘video’. No sign of a factory or robots, just an office block with BMW’s in the car park (i.e. not even EV’s). More vaporware IMO…

  • Joe

    This story can’t be right…where is the COAL ?

  • Miles Harding

    Good on the NT government for understanding what “innovation” means.

    I, for one, am very happy to see more diversity in battery design. It’s also refreshing to see a battery company that recognises that the future resembles a great patchwork quilt, with them as a brightly coloured square in the whole.

    I have no issue in a modest sized operation (150MWh is still a lot). It is a lot easier (and more agreeable) to expand than contract a business.

  • Rob G

    Exciting times. There is a real feeling that momentum is now happening. Irrelevant if our coal loving government. They have been a side show….