Solutions for a sustainable future in energy storage

Running 23-24 May in Adelaide, the Australian Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition (AES 2018) saw the biggest names in energy storage come together to showcase their latest technologies and processes. Manufacturers’ Monthly reports.

The fifth edition of the Australian Energy Storage (AES) Conference and Exhibition held in Adelaide, revolved around the central theme of “Storing Energy for a Sustainable Future.”

More than 60 leading companies in the Australian and global energy storage industry exhibited their newest technologies.

The conference sessions focused on the latest developments in lithium batteries, flow batteries, hydrogen storage, silicon thermal storage, compressed air storage, flywheel energy storage, inverters, lead acid batteries, pumped hydro, hybrid system providers, and energy management.

A dominant message in the conference sessions was the need to prepare Australia for the inevitable transition to renewable energy and the available solutions to do so in the most sustainable way.

South Australian Minister for Energy and Mining, Dan van Holst Pellekaan, reaffirmed this message in his welcome address: “The level of attendance [in the conference] is a testament to the importance of storage in the energy transition. It is not a choice of whether to increase clean energy, but how to do it. The transition is underway and the transition will continue.

“You can not pursue such a high take-up of variable renewable energy without it being paired with a growth in storage and interconnection,” van Holst Pellekaan said.

Tackling high energy costs: GFG Alliance’s model Keynote speaker, GFG Alliance chairman Sanjeev Gupta discussed his company’s plans and ambitions for investing in various sectors in Australia, noting that all of those investments were reliant on being able to effectively lower the energy costs through renewable energy generation and storage.

He mentioned plans by GFG Alliance to invest in establishing a bank for the mid-corporate companies (with turnover ranging from $50-$500 million), expanding the mine acquisitions across Australia and investing in non- ferrous minerals and expanding his steel production and scrap steel and scrap aluminium recycling business (Green Steel and Green Aluminium).

A dominant message in the conference was the need to prepare Australia for the inevitable transition to renewable energy and the available solutions.

Underpinning all those investments, he said, would be the company’s investments in energy.

“Energy is a great cost in all of our business sectors. In steel production, about a third of our cost is in energy.

“Since we came here, from having the lowest energy costs in the world, Australia quickly became one of the highest energy cost countries in the world,” he said.

At the same time, he said, energy consumption in Australia is expected to grow with the evolution of domestic economy, and strengthened by the entry of international investors, such as GFG Alliance.

To tackle the issue, he described GFG Alliance’s solutions as threefold: taking control of
their own energy generation; pairing energy generation with load balancing mechanisms; and developing renewable energy solutions for the wider society.

While Gupta’s company had earlier committed to building 1GW of large-scale solar-plus-storage in and around Whyalla, he said the scope of GFG’s investments in renewable energy across Australia could increase to as much as 10GW – keeping in line with the company’s industrial growth.

Gupta also confirmed plans to enter into electric car production with iStream, a light-weight car designed by UK’s Formula One designer Gordon Murray.

“The design uses F1 technology, but at the opposite end of the scale – making competitive cars for $20,000 to $30,000. The car has a light frame as it uses tubular chassis rather than the traditional chassis. It also uses composite panels. So, it’s a much lighter car and therefore well suited to the electric car technology.

“That is the car which we will invest in both Australia and India. We are looking at setting up a plant in the next two-three years, either in South Australia or in another part of the country, subject to what conditions are best for production,” he said.

He also hinted at future plans to enter lithium battery production and battery recycling.

“Australia has the best material resources, both in terms of energy and minerals. But unfortunately it has failed in capitalising on them. The way I see it [with battery production], we are again heading towards exporting the lithium material to China and other places such as Korea or Japan, without adding much value.

“There is a clear and great opportunity for us to take charge of this change in the world order where batteries will become a key part of our lives. Both battery production and battery recycling are clear opportunities and we will try to get involved in them,” he said.

In a conversation with Manufacturers’ Monthly, he encouraged manufacturers in all sectors to take benefit of renewable energy to bring down costs.

“If you have a warehouse processing, you can easily apply solar roofs and batteries. The key is to bring the cost of these things down. At the moment, the costs are quite high, and one of the reasons is the cost of finance and how long it takes to amortise it, because many businesses cannot, or will not, amortise these plants over a long period. They want to pay them back in much smaller periods,” he said.

While admitting that not all companies can follow suit with GFG Alliance’s integrated model to generate their own renewable energy, he recommended that companies look for energy generators who can offer renewable energy at competitive rates – an example being GFG Alliance’s recent deal with Neon to supply power to Laverton steel works in Victoria.

“Where some other company has a cheap form of generation, we buy from them. It all depends on what is the best opportunity available,” he said.

Flow batteries as a solution

Another keynote speaker, Simon Hackett, non-executive director and technology evangelist-Redflow Limited, spoke about the advantages  of flow batteries over conventional batteries such as lithium ion and lead- acid batteries.

Redflow’s ZBM2 Zinc-Bromine flow battery is the first small-scale application of flow batteries, making them ideal for use in residential, telecommunications, commercial and industrial and even grid-scale energy storage.

“Unlike conventional batteries, flow batteries don’t lose their output capacity with ageing. All other types of batteries wear out with time and the more you use them, their capacity diminishes with age. That’s something we are used to and we think that’s a normal thing with a battery. It may be a normal thing with conventional batteries, but not with flow batteries,” Hackett told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“Flow batteries can also be completely charged and discharged. They have no concept of reserved capacity. They also don’t suffer from what is called as thermal runaway. In lithium batteries, one of the consequences of their high energy storage capacity is that capacity also governs the thermal runaway.

Redflow non-executive director, Simon Hackett spoke about the advantages of flow batteries over conventional batteries.

But a major advantage, Hackett said, is the recyclability of flow batteries, making them a better choice for the environment compared to lithium and lead-acid batteries. “All components of Redflow batteries can be either recycled or re-used,” he said.

“One of the things that we need to be careful about as we move into a sustainable energy future, replacing base-load power with dispatchable generation, is not to follow saving the environment from coal with destroying it with an environmental disaster around recycling enormous quantities of conventional batteries,” he said.

In the near future, Auckland-based Hi-Tech Solutions will be deploying Redflow’s ZBM2 batteries to build advanced hybrid energy storage systems that will deliver reliable power to multiple remote sites in a Pacific Island nation.

“It’s actually a multi-island telecommunications and digital TV network. The smaller sites will have two or three batteries, and the bigger sites will have up to 60 batteries installed in a container case.

“The New Zealand company chose Redflow’s battery for its resiliency, recyclability, fire-resistance and lighter weight compared to acid batteries,” he said.

Battery inverter-charger for large-scale storage projects Other exhibitors launched new products, allowing delegates to be the first to see ground-breaking technologies in the market. Victron Energy was one of these companies, showcasing MultiPlus-II series of battery inverter-chargers.

Victron Energy sales manager, Philip Crotty said the MultiPlus-II converters use old, long-proven design methodology, but offer that at competitive costs through adoption of modern manufacturing methods and new components.

Victron Energy sales manager, Philip Crotty.

The MultiPlus-II is a 48-volt inverter-charger that readily connects with a range of energy storage systems, from lead-acid and lithium- based batteries to zinc-bromine flow batteries. The unit is easier to install than earlier models with AC connections accessible via a single plate on its base. The 18-kilogram MultiPlus-II draws just 11 watts of standby power, less than half that used by the model it supersedes.

“We have designed this model specifically for on-grid energy storage systems, but it can also be used in off- grid and micro grid connections,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

He cited as one of the most popular applications of their system helping optimise existing diesel generators.

“Diesel generators are used in many remote sites, such as in mining applications. The diesel generators are built for the maximum load, but quite often the load is way below the maximum. In this situation, the efficiency is very low and it causes quicker wear out.

“If you have a battery, instead of running the generator 24 hours a day, you can run it for two to three hours a day at peak efficiency and fill up the battery. And then, those variable loads can be taken out of the battery,” he said.

As with all Victron inverter- chargers, the MultiPlus-II is a transformer-based system, which can immediately deliver backup power if the grid drops out. This includes start- up supply for high-demand devices, such as air conditioners and freezers.

On the utility side, Crotty said Victron Energy’s controllers are also used to smooth out the grid in distributed power generation.

High power/low energy battery technology Ike Hong, vice president and head of power solutions division, Kokam, explained the theory behind high power/low battery technology and how to choose the right battery technology for each application.

“To install the battery storage system, you need to define two different numbers: the capacity – which is determined by what is the  single largest loss of load on the system – and the battery energy, which is to do with how long you are going to operate the system. The C-rate is the ratio between energy and power.

“Energy applications requiring energy to be provided over a long period of time with long recharge times favour lower C-rate battery technologies; whereas power applications that require energy to be provided over a short period of time with fast recharge favour the high C-rate battery technologies,” he said.

Kokam vice president, Ike Hong, and general manager Australian Operations, Jon Pemberton, discussed their companies’ latest technologies.

Kokam is currently providing battery solutions to multiple industries, including electric buses, electric passenger cars, electric tram and the railway industry, yachts and submarines, as well as military vehicles, missile defence systems and aircrafts, Hong told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

While Kokam has found a niche market in the off-grid mining sector, with six projects completed in Australia – the latest being a 30MW lithium battery storage project for Alinta Energy in the Pilbara region of Western Australia – Hong said his company is also looking at expanding into the local market for utility-scale energy storage systems.

Kokam provides a range of lithium ion/polymer battery solutions to customers in over 50 countries.

According to Hong, his company is now planning to open office in Australia, considering the exponential growth in demand for battery solutions.

“When we came here three to four years ago, there were only a few small pilot projects, whereas now, there are so many big projects and everyone wants to put storage systems everywhere. So, it’s a very good time for us to ramp-up the scale of our business here,” he said.

Thermal energy storage systems Dr Kevin Moriarty, executive chairman of 1414 Degrees discussed his company’s unique thermal energy storage system (TESS) and how it can be utilised to deliver clean heat.

1414 Degrees’ technology uses the latent heat properties of silicon to store and recover high-temperature heat and electricity. Silicon’s high melting point (1414° Celsius)means it can hold much more energy than other phase change materials.

Moriarty noted that while 1414 Degrees had initially planned to use the technology to compete with battery storage systems, an approach he referred to as “naïve, considering that the batteries would do that a lot better.”

In its current approach, however, 1414 Degrees is focusing on providing energy in the form most used in the world – heat.

“We had underestimated the demand for clean heat. Since we changed our approach, we have had many companies come to us who said around two-third to 95 per cent of their energy needs are heat related. They said we want to install solar panels on the roofs of our factories to replace gas, because gas is expensive,” he said.

Noting that about 50 per cent of the European Union’s energy consumption is in heating/cooling, Moriarty said estimates based on data from the Federal Government showed that about a third (33.5 per cent) of energy use in Australia is in the form of heat, while electricity consumption is less than a third (27.1 per cent). The remaining consumption is in transport.

1414 Degrees is currently developing joint ventures to commercialise its technology, including a 10MWh TESS device to be deployed at Pepe Ducks processing plant and a biogas energy recovery and storage project for the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment.

Moriarty pictured a future where renewable generation will replace gas for industrial heat.

“The worldwide market for heat is much larger than electricity. In the future, the renewable generation will feed the grid and that electricity will be used to supply the industries with efficient electricity and heat.

“We are not going to compete with batteries. We want to operate at a much bigger scale and the end result should be that we can use the existing grid infrastructure, rather than using distributed storage solutions, to lower costs and increase efficiency,” he said.

Returning to the issue of sustainability, Moriarty said the problem with using a wrong solution is that you can end up with negative consequences down the road. “Batteries are not the solution for bulk storage. It has to be something else, and we think we’ve got one of them,” he concluded.