|February 28, 2019|
'Blows others out of the park': High hopes for new type of battery
|If Sydney University's frenetic inventor Thomas Maschmeyer is right, a new type of battery he has developed will slash the cost of storing surplus renewable energy and help bring electricity to millions of people.|
While batteries using a zinc-bromine combination were patented in 1889, it has taken innovative chemistry to develop the materials into a gel that is safer, longer-lasting and potentially much cheaper than existing alternatives such as lithium-ion storage.
"We believe we can manufacture the batteries at below $100 per kilowatt-hour, which blows everybody else out of the park," Professor Maschmeyer told the Herald ahead of the formal unveiling of the batteries' first commercial use at the university on Wednesday evening. "That's something that will change the energy paradigm."
The Gelion Endure, as the battery has been dubbed, has a capacity of 3 kW-hours and its first application will power a set of lights on campus.
Under a $1 million investment backed by Sydney University - which owns a 5 per cent stake in the battery's owner, Gelion Technologies - the company will install batteries on about seven other lamp poles and in two residential buildings. Students will also use the storage to help them research how such systems can best be integrated into the grid.
The ambition is to ramp output up massively, once the batteries' performance has been demonstrated to capture a share of the rapidly growing $70 billion annual global storage market.
"We will decrease the cost of energy storage to such an extent that it will be like burning $100 notes to do anything else but go with a combination of renewables with storage," he said in a speech at the launch.
"Other than a few exceptions, it will not make any economic or environmental sense to do anything else whenever replacing or installing new power capacity."
The appeal of zinc-bromine includes the materials' relative abundance, particularly compared with lithium. Zinc is widely used in the building industry, while bromine can be extracted from sea water and is byproduct of desalination plants.
And unlike lithium, the gel batteries "can't physically catch fire" as their materials are used as fire retardants elsewhere, Professor Maschmeyer said.
"It's safe to put into houses, into walls of houses, into ships," he said. "That opens up a lot of markets."
The $100 per kW target could be achieved by 2021 if current targets are met as planned. The batteries' simpler chemistry, including an ability to be discharged completely without affecting performance, means ancillary costs such as for power controllers are less, he said.
Gelion's Endure battery is intended as an energy rather than a power storage unit. The latter requires rapid release, such as in a sports car, and lithium-ion batteries have the edge for now.
Ali Asghar, a storage analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said such a price would be "pretty impressive" but the timing of such an achievement would make a big difference on the product's impact as battery storage prices continue to drop.
In 2017, Bloomberg NEF had forecast lithium batteries to cost about $US200 ($278) per kW-hour for last year but they came in at the lower average of $US176 ($244).
"So if it took to 2025 to get to $100 per kW-hour, we wouldn't take it as a breakthrough," Mr Asghar said.
Gelion aims to raise $10 million to fund the production of 5 megawatt hours of batteries in India, that the company hopes will draw international interest.
Professor Maschmeyer, whose other research includes recycling plastics and developing alternatives to oil-based products, said 400 million Indians alone had no access to electricity, relying instead on diesel and kerosene lamps that were expensive, unhealthy and harmful to the environment.
"One of our dreams is to bring light to where there is no light," he said.