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How Queensland can supercharge the future of batteries

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The Future Battery Industries Collaborative Research Centre’s first Participants Summit for 2020 has highlighted the key role that Queensland has to play in the development of Australia’s sustainable, whole-of-chain advanced battery manufacturing industry.

As batteries become an increasingly vital part of our everyday life, from powering smart phones to electric vehicles, there is a global push towards more efficient and cost-effective energy storage solutions.

The rise of battery technology has coincided with a significant and concerted effort to position Australia as a global leader in the international battery value chain. Formed in 2019, the Future Battery Industries Collaborative Research Centre (FBICRC) has brought together more than 58 industry, government and research partners to create the tools, technologies and skills to grow the role of battery storage in Australia, backed by a $25 million grant from the Federal Government and more than $110 million from the research centre’s partners.

Queensland researchers lead key FBICRC projects that are expanding Australia’s battery industry from mining to manufacturing. Professor Peter Talbot, from QUT’s Institute for Future Environments, leads the research program into battery materials and storage system development.

The recent FBICRC Participant Summit, held in Perth on March 11, showcased projects currently underway and in development. Queensland Chief Entrepreneur Leanne Kemp attended the Participant Summit, and saw firsthand how Queensland’s abundant resources and world-class researchers have positioned the State at the forefront of the battery revolution.

Leanne is the founder and CEO of Everledger, an Associate Participant in the FBICRC and a Knowledge Partner in the World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance, a collaboration between 70 public and private sector organisations to establish and collaborate on a sustainable battery value chain.

“The future of batteries is in Queensland,” Leanne says. “We all know energy storage is going to be an important part of the future, particularly the storage of solar energy and hydropower; energy sources that support a clean and green environment.

“As a State, we’re well-positioned because of our natural resources that support not only our current lithium-ion battery production, but also the production of vanadium batteries. Vanadium is a mineral found in North Queensland, and it’s the core component in Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries (VRFBs).” 

VFRBs use a vanadium electrolyte to produce long-life, stable energy storage systems with an almost unlimited number of charging and discharging cycles. Multicom Resources, a Queensland company and a Core Participant in the FBICRC, are positioning Queensland to be part of the future of Australia’s vanadium production with their Saint Elmo Project. 

The Saint Elmo Project, which has been granted Major Project Status by the Federal Government and declared a Prescribed Project by the Queensland Government, will develop an open cut mine for the production of vanadium near Julia Creek in North West Queensland. But according to Multicom Resources Executive Director Nathan Cammerman, mining the vanadium is just the first step in the company’s plans.

“We have a very large source of vanadium here in Queensland, and we have a Government that’s focused on developing an advanced manufacturing industry in Queensland,” Nathan says. “Rather than all the downstream benefits of the vanadium going offshore, we see this as an opportunity to actually manufacture batteries here in Queensland, thereby enabling us to extract maximum value out of our product.”

Multicom Resources and its wholly owned subsidiary, Freedom Energy, will work with its US based technology partner, StorEn Technologies and alongside researchers at the Queensland University of Technology and the FBICRC’s national battery testing facility to develop their VFRBs. 

“We have amazing researchers in Queensland who are passionate about bringing this new industry into fruition,” Nathan says. “We do a lot of work with QUT, but across the board, Queensland universities and institutions are passionate about energy storage. That’s crucial, because for an emerging energy storage manufacturing industry to be successful, there has to be a trialogue between industry, government and academia. That’s exactly what we are seeing here in Queensland.”

Dr Lynette Molyneaux, from the University of Queensland’s Centre for Policy Futures and an Advance Queensland Research Fellow, says minerals aren’t the only resource putting Queensland in the driver’s seat.

“We have plenty of sunshine here in Queensland, and the cost of energy generated by solar photovoltaic technology is projected to come down significantly in the next 5 to 10 years,” she explains. “That makes it a smart move to manufacture batteries here, because energy will be a very cheap input into the manufacturing process.

“The world is transitioning to new forms of energy, and it represents a significant worldwide opportunity. Queensland is well-positioned to be proactive in taking advantage of that opportunity.”

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