Professor Maschmeyer said industry concerns about fires from lithium-ion batteries were legitimate. LG Chem in the United States had to recall 10,000 home residential battery storage units last month after issues with overheating and catching fire.
“People are aware of the issues and try to engineer them out, and we see them still blowing up,” he said. “There is huge demand for something that’s safe. People put safety above cost.”
There have been about 40 known fires within large-scale, lithium-ion battery energy storage systems, according to research by Newcastle University’s Paul Christensen.
Most have occurred in the past three years, but some date back to 2012, and include four fires at three facilities in the United States – in Arizona, Wisconsin and Illinois.
The most high-profile fire from a lithium-ion battery in Australia occurred in July near Geelong, where a Tesla Megapack battery caught alight at Neoen’s 300-megawatt Victoria Big Battery project.
The fire burned for three days, with authorities issuing warnings about toxic fumes affecting neighbouring suburbs.
Professor Maschmeyer said it was impossible for zinc-bromide batteries to catch fire. “Our electrolyte is fire-retardant. If it leaked out it would help put the fire out,” he said.
Gelion Technologies has struck a deal with Battery Energy Power Solutions to manufacture and distribute its non-flow zinc-bromide batteries from a factory in Fairfield in Sydney’s western suburbs.
Another advantage of the zinc-bromide batteries is they can be made at existing battery factories and don’t need a greenfield site.
They are also suitable for a wide range of temperatures and are more resilient than normal batteries, which would make them suitable for replacing diesel generation in agricultural production.
Gelion Technologies chief executive Andrew Grimes said the firm aimed to make the new Gelion Endure battery locally for the Australian market. Battery Energy will run a pilot production line with the aim of commercialising the project, possibly from next year.
Like other alternative battery producers such as Brisbane Li-S Energy, Gelion will aim at industrial customers, such as drone operators and electric vehicles, rather than home batteries.
At the moment, lithium-ion batteries – used in everything from mobile phones to electric vehicles – are cheaper than alternative battery technologies because of mass production.
Professor Maschmeyer said once production of zinc-bromide batteries reached 100 megawatt hours scale, they could be about 25 per cent cheaper than lithium-ion.
“The lithium-ion technology will never last the same as zinc-bromide, the 5000 to 6000 cycles,” he said.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency on Thursday announced its new investment plan, which the Morrison government said would help chart the path to net zero emissions.
ARENA has helped get wind and solar projects off the ground. Its new investment plan includes a focus on helping to commercialise clean hydrogen as well as carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.
“To get to net zero, we need to invest today in the technologies that are going to transform our energy system and our economy in the years to come,” ARENA chief executive Darren Miller said.
Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor said ARENA played a critical role in helping Australia reduce its carbon emissions.