University technology spin-off delivers smart solar benches

Gelion smart benches, powered by Endure zinc-bromide batteries at Cadigal Green, University of Sydney. Image credit: Gelion

Australian battery innovator Gelion Technologies has delivered a roll-out of its solar-powered benches at the University of Sydney, taking its battery technology to the pre-market stage.

The Endure batteries that power the off-grid smart benches will be the first commercial installation for the company, which was spun-out from the University of Sydney by founder and chemist, Professor Thomas Maschmeyer.

“To power a low-carbon society, we need cheap, safe and ubiquitous batteries for a renewables revolution,” said Maschmeyer, a Eureka Prize winner for leadership in innovation and science.

“Our batteries use zinc bromide, an abundant, cheap resource that can be used safely in a wide range of environments off-grid or to supplement grid power.”

The Endure zinc-bromide batteries are optimised for stationary energy storage and could be used to power a range of off- or on-grid applications in the industrial, commercial, agricultural and residential sectors. They are especially suited to hot and remote environments given their high-temperature capability and low-fade characteristics, even if completely charged and discharged on a daily basis.

The installation unveiled today at the university’s Camperdown and Darlington campus is designed to extend lighting zones without mains infrastructure. It incorporates two seating benches and the photovoltaic solar roof doubles as shelter.

The first six benches also form part of the University’s living laboratory project as envisioned in the new sustainability strategy.

Vice-Chancellor and principal Dr Michael Spence said the collaboration between University Infrastructure and Gelion highlights the University of Sydney’s commitment to research innovation, commercialisation and the environment.

“We want to be part of the global energy transformation under way,” he said. “Gelion’s technology is well placed to provide low-carbon, renewable storage solutions for an energy-hungry world.”

The Endure battery is a local manufacturing success story, with participation from manufacturers in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. More than a dozen local manufacturers have contributed components from forming plastics, machining and fabrication to design and final assembly and testing at Gelion’s facility at the National Innovations Centre (Cicada Innovations) in Sydney’s Eveleigh precinct.

“We want to provide solutions for Australia and produce ready-to-export technology that can power renewables worldwide,” Maschmeyer said.

Gelion has reimagined the zinc-bromide chemistry, changing it from flow to non-flow. This has created a battery optimised for energy storage which is safe, robust, cost-effective and fully recyclable. Endure offers a viable alternative to lithium-ion batteries by leveraging manufacturing from the established lead-acid battery ecosystem.

The result is a scalable battery that can help unlock the potential of renewables, making them cheaper, safer and more deployable.

“Our Endure batteries have a significant advantage in the Australian market, where off-grid battery demands can be very challenging,” Maschmeyer said.

“Endure can operate at high temperature without air-conditioning. The batteries by themselves cannot catch fire as the materials are highly flame retardant,” he said.

“This means the technology can be deployed in the mining and agriculture industries as well as in remote settlements where mains power is not readily available.”

Gelion’s robust and safe chemistry makes the expensive and complex auxiliary systems typically associated with other battery types unnecessary. As the Endure battery technology does not require air-conditioning, fire suppression or acid catchment areas, the overall costs and difficulty of the battery installation are substantially reduced.

The Endure battery can be transported and stored with zero voltage, a significant advantage for logistics, safety and cost. The gel used in the Gelion platform has fire-retardant properties, making the batteries resistant to overheating and exploding and are therefore ideally suited for tough and remote environments, for example in off-grid and agricultural markets.

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