Townsville battery “gigafactory” plan gains momentum

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Construction of lithium-ion “giga-factory” in Queensland’s north one step closer after Imperium3 consortium signs up Siemens to New York project.

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Construction of a lithium-ion “giga-factory” in Queensland’s north is one step closer to being realised, after the high-powered Imperium3 consortium behind the proposed battery plant brought global tech giant, Siemens, in on its plans.

The Australian reports that Siemens has signed a letter of intent with Boston Energy and Innovation, a company led by former Macquarie Bank senior executive Bill Moss, alongside Eastman Kodak, Australian graphite producer Magnis Resources, and US battery outfit C4V and C&D Assembly.

The Siemens deal is to provide the consortium with digitisation and automation technology, initially for a New York battery plant, but is being reported as a “positive” for the proposed $2 billion, 15GWh Townsville factory.

As we reported here in May last year, the consortium had identified a number of potential local council and state development sites for the Townsville plant, which it says would produce enough storage for 1 million home battery units, 300 microgrids, or 250,000 electric vehicles with 400km of range.

So far, the Townsville Council has offered to grant part of a former CSIRO research facility to the consortium, in exchange for an equity share in the project.

And late last year, the consortium secured a $3.1 million funding commitment from Queensland’s Palaszczuk government and launched a $12 million capital raising to fund a feasibility study and detailed engineering design for the plant.

“The level of interest coming through for the Townsville Gigafactory is extraordinary,” Magnis chairman Frank Poullas said of the project, last year.

“Being able to create a sustainable supply chain that bypasses the current major battery producing nations is something that really appeals to potential end users and investors.”

BEI’s Moss has described the project as an opportunity for Australia to become a world leader in the manufacture of battery storage, as well as its deployment.

He has also said the consortium was committed to transforming Australia’s energy supply through the provision of cost-effective battery storage, and says the project could create 2,000 direct jobs in manufacturing and support 5,000 indirect jobs through supply chains.

“Energy security is becoming a major concern globally, Australia is on the verge of becoming a smart energy manufacturing powerhouse if the government allows it,” Moss said in comments this week.

Siemens Digital’s Raj Batra said the company was impressed by the progress being made in New York so far, and described the project as one of the most advanced in the world.

Elsewhere in Australia, a separate $100 million battery “gigafactory” is also being planned for Darwin, by a separate consortium led by Energy Renaissance and US battery outfit 24M.

As we reported here last June, the companies have said the first phase of that smaller project would create four production lines and target niche utility and industrial scale markets in Australia and Asia.

On the residential energy storage front, German battery giant, sonnen, in February announced plans to establish a manufacturing plant in Adelaide, creating for than 400 jobs, and producing 50,000 battery units over five years.

Although those plans might hinge on the policies of the newly elected SA Liberal government, which has already moved to scrap a solar and storage scheme introduced by the former Labor government, that was key to sonnen’s decision to build in Adelaide.

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40 Comments
  1. john 6 months ago

    If Sonnen decide not to go ahead with the battery production facility in Adelaide it will be a very bad signal to the public about the new government there.
    Australia is regarded world wide as the most blessed with solar and to some extent wind resources, to use these to the best extent, what is needed is storage especially in the residential area.
    To waste the invitation to build a battery manufacturing facility anywhere in the country is akin to madness.
    Regardless of the outcome; what is going to happen; is a lot more Wind Farms will be built together with Solar and with Battery and PHES and these will be put all over the grid. NOTE This is regardless of the Battery building facility.
    I expect a large take up of residential storage over the coming years Sonnen know this, I just hope the South Australian Government have read some projections and not listened to the Shock Jocks and Fake News Fox for their information.
    Am not holding my breath on the last bit frankly.
    Will not be surprised if it goes under, however the Townsville and Darwin plants may get up.

    • Joe 6 months ago

      The Marshall Plan…RE deflection shields deployed….send them sunrays, winds and batteries back to whence they came.

    • DogzOwn 6 months ago

      If Sonnen don’t go ahead then surely it will discourage foreign investment and even wobble all haallowed AAA credit rating.

      • john 6 months ago

        I hope that does not happen actually lets hope all three get up.

    • PLDD 6 months ago

      I suspect Marshall will need to tread a fine line. It’s easy in opposition to take pot shots but when you have your hands on the levers of power you can see the real data.

      In SA renewables are driving down wholesale power costs, people want to invest in SA, and some people want to build factories to employ people.

      Politicians have no qualms about forgetting election rhetoric so I expect SA will continue to drive its renewables strategy.

      But in deference to their federal colleagues they will tread the fine line by trying to run a lot of them under the radar screen….softly softly. Even NSW is ramping up renewable strategies. State politicians are responsible for power delivery which brings some reality to their world unlike Abbott. Kelly & Co.

  2. Hettie 6 months ago

    Well, Qld!. Adani said expect 1464 job years form its abomination. That’s 50 actual jobs for 30 years.
    Siemens is offering 7,000 ongoing jobs. There you go, Bill, that would keep the unions happy. Safe now to announce no cigar for Gautam. You can be unequivocal. Give Adani the flick. No is, no buts, no Adani.

    • Joe 6 months ago

      Adani wants full automation of its Carmichael Mega Coalmine Environmental Abomination. That 1464 jobs number is now also under a cloud…a ‘coal dust / BULLDUST cloud’.

  3. Patrick Comerford 6 months ago

    As business always tells us ad nauseum they need certainty to invest. Where’s the the certainty in Australia for anything connected to renewable energy. Full marks to the Qld government for putting this battery gigafactory out there but what business in its right mind would invest in a manufacturing enterprise with a requirement for billions of dollars and complete UNCERTAINTY about WTF is happening in the Australian energy sector. Sorry to sound so pessimistic but unfortunately that’s where we’ve come to with this lot.

    • Hettie 6 months ago

      I don’t think the local market uncertainty need concern Siemens. There is a gold plated export industry for the batteries.
      It would be wonderful to be able to use them here in Aus, but if there are export dollars to replace coal, that’s all good.

  4. Simon 6 months ago

    Chinese and South Koreans invest AUD$1bn in battery component manufacturing in Chile. Chile’s share of global lithium production in 2017: 33%
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-chile-lithium/chile-says-companies-to-invest-754-million-in-lithium-industry-idUSKCN1GL2UA

    Argentina looking to encourage battery manufacturing. Argentina’s share of global lithium production in 2017: 13%
    https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20180413/p2a/00m/0na/016000c

    Germans invest US$1.3bn in battery manufacturing in Bolivia. Bolivia’s share of global lithium production in 2017: 0%
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bolivia-lithium/bolivia-to-invest-in-billion-dollar-lithium-deal-with-aci-systems-idUSKBN1HS0RW

    Australia’s share of global lithium production in 2017: 43%

    The global lithium market is an oligopoly that Australia leads – yet it does nothing to use this position to ensure investment in battery manufacturing – unlike the other oligopolists.

    • Simon 6 months ago

      From the Japan Times:

      Control of battery resources is key to EV leadership

      Whoever controls the battery supply will command the electric vehicle industry. Without taking the lead on batteries, [Japan] won’t be able to lead the competition in not just electric vehicles but all electrified vehicles such as PHVs, HVs and fuel-cell vehicles. At present, batteries comprise a full 70 percent of the total production cost of an electric vehicle. Technological breakthroughs may allow countries to overcome economic constraints, but compelling geopolitical constraints – in this case, the need to secure scarce resources – remain. Japan must strengthen its resources diplomacy in order to open up a new horizon in the electric revolution.

      https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/04/09/commentary/japan-commentary/control-battery-resources-key-ev-leadership/#.WsyB7cs2QUQ.twitter

    • Simon 6 months ago

      Lithium market analyst Simon Moores on twitter:

      “those who control the lithium ion supply chain will be the biggest influencers on the next generation auto and energy industries”

      https://twitter.com/neometalsltd/status/986980273861505024

      • Hettie 6 months ago

        But as developing lithium could be seen as being in opposition to all fossil fuels, especially coal, there is no way a Coalition Gov’t will support it .
        They have to go. Yesterday if possible.

    • Hettie 6 months ago

      Yeah. Another proof that the Coalition regards Australia as a quarry. A big quarry, and nothing but a quarry.
      We have to stop selling rocks, and start selling very high value finished goods.
      Like batteries.

      • Nick Kemp 6 months ago

        Agreed – in the least they could make sure we get a decent return from the resources and build up a massive sovereign wealth fund

    • MaxG 6 months ago

      Yes, and or clowns chip in a couple of millions satisfying their imagination to play with the big boys… what a bunch of fools.

    • Simon 6 months ago

      Never in the history of oligopolies has an oligopolist messed up such a massive oligopolistic opportunity as Australia has with its lithium resources.

      • Hettie 6 months ago

        You really like that word, don’t you. Add a couple of opols into it and it would sound like a Greek surname.

        • Nick Kemp 6 months ago

          I’d like you to marry my son. Lithiamus Oligoliopoplous. He has a lot of energy

          • Hettie 6 months ago

            Ah. I might like to marry your son too, but would he really like to marry a woman of 73?

    • My_Oath 6 months ago

      I don’t think you really understand the lithium market….

      The big 4 lithium players are Albermarle, SQM, Tianqi and Ganfeng. They are the oligopoly. None of those are Australian companies.

      And your stats refer to LCE – Lithium Carbonate Equivalent.

      Here is the amount of ACTUAL Lithium Carbonate Australia produces – 0% in 2017.

      But that is changing, as there are currently 2 lithium hydroxide plants under construction and 3 others in feasibility.

      And the kicker is LiOH is a far better product for battery manufacture that LiCO3, and Australia can make it far cheaper than Chile can, and probably cheaper than Argentina or Bolivia can.

      • Simon 6 months ago

        Dude, I’ve been working in the lithium industry for nearly a decade. Yourself?

        • My_Oath 6 months ago

          If true ‘dude’, then you must work for Albermarle and/or Tianqi, 2 of the 4 oligopoly companies. Neither of which have produced any lithium carbonate in Australia, (soon to change) .

          You would also know there are a number of steps required to get from a piece of LCT Pegmatite to a battery. There are a similar number of steps required to get from a brine to a battery (slightly different pathway).

          That Reuters link has the whiff of ‘complete bollocks’. It is pretty clear that will be an industrial-grade lithium carbonate operation, not a battery manufacturing facility. If so, good on them, but it is the same as what we are doing here. Its really surprising that someone with ’10 years experience’ is posting that about Bolivia is somehow more advanced than us down the battery pathway.

  5. IT67 6 months ago

    Gigafactories – way to go, I wonder when the first Terafactory will be built?

    And in which country of course!

    The technology will always change, as will the scale. Pretty much the same as computing – I remember paying over A$100 for a 16Kb RAM pack in the 80’s. My kids look at me as if I’m daft (OK, to be fair, probably not far off the mark) when I say that.

    Batteries will head the same way without a doubt.

    • Hettie 6 months ago

      Little trip down memory lane on computer prices. Back in 1984, when I decided at the age of nearly 40 to go to university, I bought a computer to do my assignments.
      Apple 2C. It had 128 Kb of ram – double the industry standard of 64Kb. The monitor was a 7 inch orange background item. An external disk drive, to save constant swapping between program and data disks. A daisy wheel printer. Total cost, $4,000.
      How much computer can you buy today for $4 grand?

      • john 6 months ago

        I still have the one i purchased in 1981 black and white screen 8 Kbs of memory 8 pin dot matrix printer and tape drive storage.
        Cost $3150 and you programmed it yourself.

        • Hettie 6 months ago

          You win
          💃

          • john 6 months ago

            Not really those were the early models like any new tech remember TV’s cost an arm and a leg and had scratchy black and white.
            Am thinking of getting that old machine running again if the parts can be found. The early take up of Tech is dear then as the rise happens down goes the unit cost.

          • Hettie 6 months ago

            It all comes back to the way disruptive technologies take off, as so eloquently described by Tony Seba.

          • Andy Simpson 6 months ago

            Not so fast – still have Commodore PET at home, same huge 8K of memory, tape storage, but bought in 1980

          • john 6 months ago

            At least we had to learn a bit about programming to use them which has proved very helpful later on doing programs for Excel for instance.

          • Andy Simpson 6 months ago

            I’m still programming 38 years later 🙂 so that was money well-invested.
            This one still works at last test, I think there is one bit of memory that is always off which you have to avoid…

          • john 6 months ago

            Very well done, I am afraid the old machine is sitting in the shed am not confident the tape drive would still work let alone the CRT.

          • Hettie 6 months ago

            Indeed. In my final year at Sydney Uni, 1986!! I did General Computing Studies, in an attempt to bring some commercial relevance to a degree which included a couple of law units, but was heavily into Chaucer and such esoteric delights as Old Icelandic.
            As part of that clayton’s computer science unit, we learned Logo programming, which turned out to be the foundation of the Excel macro language, and enabled me, after a few weeks of busy coding, to complete in 30 minutes work which had taken my predecessor 3 weeks.
            Every month.
            Hey ho.

      • IT67 6 months ago

        lol – yep, been, seen, done. The first ‘computer’ I had was a ZX-81 (Guess what, in 1981) – and that’s what the 16k ram pack was for. It plugged into the back and had to be held steady by a 10p (roughly the same as a US quarter) coin to stop the memory crashing in a power dump.
        My first introduction to Basic programming and screaming tape recordings (and loading) of programs at outrageously low baud rates.
        Oh the joys 😛

      • Phil NSW 5 months ago

        With interest, there was an article into today’s Australian about this project saying there is now a memorandum of understanding and funding for the feasibility study. Hmmm I did something similar to you decade after you however my computer was bigger and better by then. It was my second degree and only wish I had done engineering 20 years earlier.

  6. Nick Kemp 6 months ago

    “So far, the Townsville Council has offered to grant part of a former CSIRO research facility to the consortium, in exchange for an equity share in the project.”

    I like the equity share idea – A smart council could have very low rates if it had equity in enough decent projects. It’s a lot better than handing out grants in the hope that nice things will arrive at some time or other.

    • Paul Surguy 6 months ago

      It is a good start

  7. Jason Panosh 6 months ago

    $1bil for old world Adani, but peanuts for the next generation battery factory. Just shows how backwards looking Australia is.

  8. Phil NSW 5 months ago

    Back in the news with an update (Australian 5/6/18). Still looking good.

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