A University of Wollongong-led project will develop 'game-changing' sodium-ion bettery technology to help drive increased use of renewable energy.

UOW is leading a project consortium that has received $2.7 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and $1.8 million from partners to develop low-cost, high-density battery storage to integrate renewable energy sources, such as solar power, into the grid.

This will directly impact on the uptake of renewables. A single, integrated solution for renewable energy generation, storage and management will make it cheaper and simpler for consumers.

The Australian Government has set a target of sourcing 20 per cent of power generation from renewables by 2020. Yet, the intermittent nature of solar, wind, wave and other renewable sources, coupled with the high cost of large-scale battery storage, imposes a barrier on wider uptake.

Over the course of the four-year project, three UOW research groups will combine their expertise in battery technology, power reliability and building integration to develop sodium-ion battery materials technology in a modular and expandable battery packaging platform.

Current lithium-ion battery technology is expensive and uses relatively rare materials, while lead-acid technology is mature and cheap but has relatively poor energy density, which is a problem for use in large-scale storage systems.

As electric vehicles become more popular, demand for lithium-ion batteries will stretch an already limited supply of raw materials, pushing up the price of the technology.

Sodium however, is abundant, cheap and the element lends itself to being a ready replacement for lithium. The challenge for sodium-based batteries is to increase their charge and discharge rate and reduce the overall size of the batteries.

UOW’s Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials (ISEM), which has a well-established world reputation on energy storage materials research, will develop a pilot-scale sodium materials production facility to prototype and develop the modular and expandable battery packs.

The battery packs will be tested in a residential and industrial setting. A small pack will be installed at the Illawarra Flame house, a sustainability demonstration site at UOW’s Innovation Campus.

A larger battery pack will be installed at Sydney Water’s Bondi Sewage Pumping Station, located just behind the iconic Bondi Beach. This pack will be integrated into a state-of-the art energy management system that is also being developed as part of the project. The energy management system will monitor and control renewable energy generation, storage and consumption to ensure the overall system operates at maximum efficiency.

UOW project leader and ISEM Director Distinguished Professor Shi Xue Dou said a single, cheap and integrated solution for renewable energy generation, storage and management would significantly improve uptake of renewable power.

“This technology will be a game-changer in providing cheap, energy-dense storage in the context of an energy managementsystem,” he said. “It will provide a path for Australia to reduce demand on the grid and the cost of infrastructure upgrades for utilities - particularly in remote regions.”

The UOW research groups involved in the project alongside ISEM are the Australian Power Quality and Reliability Centre and the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre.

Their expertise will help design and model the energy management system and perform detailed energy-use studies to maximise the efficient use of the renewables generation, energy storage and grid connection.

Key manufacturing partners – McNair Technology, Hebei ANZ, Hong Cheng Electric Power, and Nano-Nouvelle – will develop the manufacturing processes, techniques and capacity to mass-produce the required sodium-ion cells for this project, and to meet the anticipated demand for this technology in the future.

As an end user, project partner Sydney Water will provide a platform for evaluation of the sodium storage pack at its pumping station and demonstrate its commercial viability. Sydney Water Energy Manager Philip Woods said this technology would be of great benefit to Sydney Water’s operations, with the potential to significantly reduce the cost of energy storage.

“We are pleased to support this project and look forward to testing this ground-breaking technology at one of our pumping stations in Bondi. The ability to store solar energy will increase the resilience of our plants, lower our operating costs and fits well with our commitment to cost-effectively generate and source electricity from renewable sources.”

The project will start in mid-2016 and is expected to be completed in early 2020.

About ARENA

ARENA was established by the Australian Government to make renewable energy technologies more affordable and increase the supply of renewable energy in Australia.

Through the provision of funding coupled with deep commercial and technical expertise, ARENA provides the support needed to accelerate the development of promising new solutions towards commercialisation.

ARENA invests in renewable energy projects across the innovation chain and is committed to sharing knowledge and lessons learned from its portfolio of projects and information about renewable energy.

ARENA always looks for at least matched funding from the projects it supports and to date has committed $1.1 billion in funding to more than 250 projects.

NEXT-GENERATION BATTERIES SYMPOSIUM

The 2016 International Symposium on Next-Generation Batteries will be held the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus in August, bringing together more than 200 international scholars.

A first for Wollongong, the symposium will create a stage for exchanging the latest research results and sharing the advanced research methods for both young and senior scientists all over the world.

The symposium is soliciting state-of-the-art research papers in the following topics: Lithium and sodium based batteries; Metal air batteries; Electrochemical supercapacitors; Novel carbon based materials; Fuel cells and electrochemical catalysts; and Solar cells.

Symposium chair, Dr Shulei Chou, from the Institute of Superconducting Electronic Materials, invites all academics involved in these research areas to attend.