Australian gel-based battery technology attracts major UK finance

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Plans by Australian nanotech start-up to commercialise revolutionary battery storage technology boosted by $11m UK investment.

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The plans of Australian nano-technology start-up Gelion to commercialise its potentially revolutionary battery storage technology has been boosted by an $11 million investment by UK renewables group Armstrong Energy.

Gelion – a spin-off company from the University of Sydney – said on Wednesday that it had exchanged contracts with Armstrong Energy, a leading London-headquartered company which focuses solar energy at a utility-scale.

Gelion’s battery technology, which was featured recently on ABC TV’s Catalyst, differs from zinc-bromine flow batteries – such as those made by Australian company Redflow – in that it uses a gel, instead of a liquid.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 12.25.09 PMThe nano-structured gel is the brainchild of renewable energy and catalysis expert Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, who is also the director of the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, which launches this month at the University of Sydney on 20 April.

It not only allows the batteries to be used in much smaller appliances, including cars, computers and mobile phones, but is also aimed at significantly out-competing current lithium-ion technology in terms of charging/discharging speeds, safety, durability and price.

According to Gelion, it has got the charge time for the battery down to just a few minutes, while its efficiency is at 90 per cent, which is higher than in your mobile phone. It also has a longer lifetime and is cheaper than lithium, and the gel is made out of a fire-retardant material.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 12.24.10 PM
The gel layer of the battery

But the initial target market for Gelion’s batteries is for storage in buildings – both residential and commercial.

As Catalyst explains, being gel-based, the batteries are “bendy” – a feature that has caught the attention of the building industry – including big name players like Lend Lease, who are picturing a future where flat-pack zinc-bromine batteries could be included in the very fabric of buildings.

“We’re thinking about things like working with Professor Maschmeyer to use prefabricated wall segments, for example, as, effectively, battery storage or power storage facilities,” said Lend Lease CEO Steven McCann.

“So imagine that in a large scale and the impact that will have on the emissions from the built space, which is a very significant impact on the environment.”

Professor Maschmeyer explains further: “The idea is to build houses with batteries inherently included as part of their structure, ready to take advantage of rapidly improving, solar energy technology and also to serve as a buffer for the grid, enabling an ever greater share of renewables to be connected, while grid stability is maintained.”

And while that might be a way off yet, the investment from Armstrong Energy means a full commercial demonstration prototype could be developed within four years.Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 12.25.00 PM

“The investment fits very well into our existing portfolio that specialises in the development, acquisition and operation of power projects that provide a stable yield for our investors from the sale of electricity or heat,” said Armstrong Energy director Steve Mahon.

“We have invested more than £250 million into energy infrastructure, delivering excellent risk-adjusted returns to investors – we expect the Gelion investment to join that success.”

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence said Gelion Technologies was a success story for the University of Sydney and for public investment in science and technology.

“Here we have an outstanding example where quality academic achievements meet with a desire to make an impact – and translate the deep, fundamental insights gained in the laboratory to commercial application,” Dr Spence said.

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21 Comments
  1. Michael Berris 3 years ago

    Why, if they are making gel based lead batteries would they be talking about putting in Zinc Bromine batteries? ” including big name players like Lend Lease, who are picturing a future where flat-pack zinc-bromine batteries could be included in the very fabric of buildings.”

    • Paul Roberts 3 years ago

      Catalyst describes it as a zinc bromide battery where instead of a liquid it is a gel.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Potentially lighter, cheaper, more compact and can be charged very quickly.

  2. Rob G 3 years ago

    Yet another example of potential money being made on a future green tech. You’d think a LNP government would be all over this (given the earning potential) – but sadly ideology is getting in the way. So much for supporting innovation – other countries are backing us before our own government. Their gain, our loss.

    • john 3 years ago

      Yes it is rather ironic that a British company has made the investment.
      Note Australia is great at doing research and pathetic at bringing it to market.
      Think csiro electron microscope commercialization for instance with out this technology bugger all investigation of any area of research could get results.
      Who commercialized it i ask not Australia old mate.

    • Lee McCurtayne 2 years ago

      The petro chemical contributors are still in control of the government nose ring.

      • Chris Townley 2 years ago

        ANU coupled with Origin energy to produce the Sliver Cell PV Panels, and asked why the price of their Sliver Cells was not significantly cheaper than foreign panels, they, Origin Energy said they wanted a premium on the panels. rather than sowing up the market a t a lower cost, they wanted a Premium. How many members on the board are Labor members associates, like Coke Bottlers Inc?

        • Lee McCurtayne 2 years ago

          It seems, you would like to blame someone. Well where do we start?. We have an industry not interested in building new power stations, but concentrating on “Joe Public” in the long term to supply them. Receiving pwr at 5c/kwt and reselling it back to us at over 600% in peak, with the blessings of our wonderful federal government.
          Solar is cheap as far as generation costs and lowers overheads for the Energy Cos. It is extremely profitable yet they sit on the fence and not commit to solar ramp ups. They just don’t want to invest, just ride the back of emerging tech, its a joke.

          • Chris Townley 1 year ago

            There is a little problem, it’s based upon the Labor government both spending and locking up a lot of the available funds. Sliver cells was all about the Management of Origin Energy not having the nouse to capitalise on a significant advantage, which is not uncommon in Australian Business management, and fits hand in glove with GM closing down Holden vehicle manufacturing, because the US Law enforcement agencies preferred Australian Manufactured products to their own.

    • Chris Townley 2 years ago

      The LNP is not the only play of that game, the difference is that the LNP talks of times within the current generation’s life, unlike Labor that say we’ll give lots of money, and doesn’t include it in their budget, if it is forecast it is more likely scheduled for the latter part of this generation’s grandchildren’s life! while they Labor party is having the highways to their homes and members of those they are trying to coerce into supporting them to remain in Government, improved and beautified!

  3. solarguy 3 years ago

    The most important questions about this battery are:-
    What is the cost /kwh
    What is the cycle life and at what DOD
    Will they handle over charging and partial state of charge.

    Integrating them into a house structure is good as far as it goes, but what do you have to do when the battery reaches the end of it’s life and needs replacement?
    Bromine vapour is toxic, which will happen in a fire. Not good if it’s built into a house structure.

    However, I like this new battery, but would just like to have these questions answered.
    And why isn’t some Aussie company running with this. Makes me angry!

    • john 3 years ago

      Very true what is need is the details.

    • Ron Horgan 3 years ago

      I agree Solarguy, use of bromine is a non starter unless the problem of free bromine release under fire conditions can be solved.
      The risk may be uninsurable. I couldn’t get a response from Redflow about this concern. Blanketing with some reactant to form heat stable bromides may prevent release, but the problem has to be solved.

    • Lee McCurtayne 3 years ago

      Because this country is ownly interested in “Sure Thing” capitol not “Risk Capitol”. Once again that “dig it up, put it in a bulk carrier” show us the quick buck mentality.

      • solarguy 3 years ago

        Yes Lee, that’s pretty well the mentality, but you left out gambling and prostitution. Australia should be and can be a very rich country, if only we were to value add to our recourses. With cheap and carbon free energy, we could become a manufacturing power house.
        I believe that within 20yrs Chinese products won’t be as cheap, due to increasing living standards.

      • Chris Townley 1 year ago

        I wish you wouldn’t say us, it’s the old money that runs things and the old money got there because of what they do, only the safe thing. They didn’t create the Commonwealth Bank, the people through our Government did, much to the objection of the existing banks!

    • Chris Townley 1 year ago

      Me three. Australian enterprise in general is very poor!

  4. Lee McCurtayne 3 years ago

    Here we are at the crossroads of energy efficiency and the LNP would rather give a coal subsidy than actually back something of international significance. The potential advantages for Submarine power is staggering.

    • Chris Townley 1 year ago

      Unfortunately Subsidies only work for a short time, look at the First home buyer schemes around the nation. The cost of housing grew with the increase of First home buyer incentive. The same is true of the power market, home adopters are not dropping off, if anything they have seen that people with Solar are reaping the financial benefit, and are now getting power walls/Battery support, and giving the State government piggy banks the flick.

  5. Lee McCurtayne 2 years ago

    If the Zinc Bromine batteries are 9 x efficient surly even smaller roof top solar cell groups will close the gap by increased efficientcy

  6. Richard 1 year ago

    Once again a great idea(if it is)gets buried by not selling it.
    Lithium ion will kill this just because of economies of scale.
    This is about developing technology and ensuring that it is never developed because you are paid to bury it.
    This will be the last we ever hear of this
    technology.

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