Sydney-based battery company Gelion Technologies recently entered into a partnership with one of Australia’s two lead-acid battery manufacturers, Battery Energy Power Solutions. The partnership will see Gelion’s redesigned and trademarked non-flow zinc-bromide (ZnBr2) “Endure” batteries produced in Battery Energy’s facility in Sydney.
Thomas Maschmeyer, a University of Sydney chemistry professor, founded Gelion in 2015 to commercialize a significant discovery made during his research: an innovative zinc-bromide battery gel. It work as a 3D flyscreen that holds liquid, permitting chemistry to happen inside it, and thereby allowing the transport of ions to be engineered.
“As an academic, you think the best way … [is the] intellectually most elegant way. But that may not be the best at all from an engineering point of view, or from a commerce, financial, manufacturing point of view. So bringing it out of the lab and into real world manufacturing was a hugely informative journey for us,” Maschmeyer told pv magazine Australia.
This makeup is quite novel, with only Gelion and U.S. company Eos playing in the non-flow zinc-bromide space. However, there are a number of flow battery companies pursuing the chemistry, the most notable of which is Brisbane-based Redflow.
“Gelion batteries are safe, robust and recyclable,” the professor said in a statement. “For stationary energy storage, zinc-bromide batteries do away with the need for expensive cooling and maintenance systems. And they can’t catch fire.”
Maschmeyer describes zinc-bromide chemistry as ideal for solar batteries as it’s relatively slow to charge. He’s glad other companies are playing in the space, positioning lithium as the real competition – over which he says Gelion’s technology has significant advantages, particularly with regards to safety. Its electrolyte gel is a fire retardant, meaning its batteries can’t catch fire or explode. In fact, they can operate safely at temperatures up to 50 C and can be completely discharged to zero volts with no loss of function, making them “very abuse tolerant.”
Current designs of the individual Endure battery cells are between 200Wh to 300Wh.
“This capacity is being fine-tuned as we finalize our production systems,” said CEO Andrew Grimes. “However, as the Gelion Endure battery is a scalable product, these individual cells are designed to work together to provide capacity ranging from the kilowatt-hour to megawatt-hour scale.”
As it stands, its Endure battery has a round-trip efficiency of 90%, is non-toxic and the company claims it’s more than 95% recyclable. These features were refined in Gelion’s initial bipolar format, but when the company began its deep design studies with an undisclosed global partner during the pandemic, it arrived at the conclusion the smartest way to commercialize the Endure battery would be to switch the design to a parallel plate lead-acid format.
The battery is described as suitable for for irrigation, water purification and desalination systems, remote communities, mining facilities and agriculture.
Two things preceded this decision. The first was the complexity of building new manufacturing capability, and the second was the fact access to capital for such an endeavor is effectively hamstrung in Australia due to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s rules.
“If you want to produce something in a factory here, you need to have a factory reference plant the same size or bigger that has been operating for two years and that allows you to have full emissions data of the factory. That means you can never build a new factory here for new technology because you’ve got to prove it somewhere and you can’t prove it here,” said Maschmeyer. “If you can hook onto something that already exists, it’s much better … That’s why it was possible to introduce it so quickly worldwide, because they didn’t have to build everything from scratch. That’s exactly the concept behind us going for a lead-acid format.”
At the moment, Gelion is sourcing its zinc and bromide and other battery materials through existing supply chains, but its aim in future is to source most of its minerals from Australia. Its Endure zinc-bromide batteries will be deployed in production trials next year ahead of anticipated commercial availability.
The company’s model going forward is not to manufacture its batteries in-house, but rather to partner with facilities that have existing capabilities. “We don’t intend ourself to become a battery manufacturing company. We are a tech developer to get it commercialization, and we then license to partners,” said Maschmeyer. “We are going overseas but we are also staying local with the same model.”
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