Finally, an Australian effort to get more value out of the lithium battery supply chain

“In the field of lithium-ion batteries, Australia is playing a game that everyone in the world wants to win, and we hold all the aces,” says Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre CEO Shannon O’Rourke.

All the critical minerals are mined here: Australia produces some 50% of the world’s total supply. But, as it’s only digging them out of the ground, it’s earning just 0.5% of their final value.

The success of a pilot lithium-ion battery production plant at Tomago, New South Wales, may signal a change to that imbalanced equation. It has achieved the output of some 4MWh (megawatt hours) worth of lithium-ion batteries per month.

Project Apollo is a joint effort between Energy Renaissance (ER), CSIRO and the federal government’s Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) to design, develop, test and produce a new generation of lithium-ion batteries.

Now work has begun on scaling up to a full manufacturing facility.

“Just a few years ago, we were told it wasn’t possible to manufacture in Australia,” says ER founder Brian Craighead. “Today, in the shadow of our soon-to-be-completed Renaissance One facility, I can tell you that it is absolutely possible.”

Lithium-ion battery plant is another Newscastle renaissance

O’Rourke, who was a keynote speaker at the Lithium, Battery, and Energy Metals Conference 2022 in Perth earlier in September, says the race to secure future technologies is on globally.

“Our next moves in this high-stakes game will determine our role in the industry over the long term,” he says. “There won’t be another round; if we don’t deal ourselves in at this point, I fear we will be locked out of the biggest opportunities this market offers – in a similar way to how the manufacturing of solar panels panned out.”

The fate of the 4500 square metre Renaissance One factory will help determine Australia’s manufacturing future.

It will employ about 700 people to produce ER and CSIRO-developed prismatic modular battery cells. It’s based in NSW’s Hunter Region to tap into the resources of the CSIRO’s Energy Centre and the nearby port of Newcastle. And its battery energy storage systems (BESS) are designed for “plug and play” connectivity on a grid scale, ease of maintenance and recyclability.

CSIRO also developed a battery management system to self-diagnose and self-optimise performance. Built-in connectivity allows for ‘human in the loop’ real-time monitoring.

ER says it has tailored the notoriously delicate lithium-ion technology to withstand Australia’s high-temperature and high-humidity conditions. This is particularly important for remote mining operations.

Supplying lithium-ion batteries is a rapidly growing domestic and export market. Globally, demand is projected to soar sevenfold over the next decade.

O’Rourke says Future Battery Industries CRC programs seek to develop a complete battery production process “across the entire value chain”. 

“The Manufacturing, Testing and Deployment stream is building essential capabilities which demonstrate and qualify Australian materials and provide basic prototyping support for Australian manufacturers,” he says. “With our leading facilities such as the National Battery Testing Centre at the Queensland University of Technology, we can validate the performance and safety of batteries in an Australian context.”

Craighead says 92% of Renaissance One’s final product is locally produced. He adds that work continues to boost this to as close as possible to 100%.

The Renaissance One plant will begin producing about 300MWh of batteries annually, scaling up to 5.3GWh (gigawatt hours) when fully operational.

“According to our Future Charge Report, a diversified Australian battery industry will be able to support over 34,000 jobs by 2030 – which represents a five-fold increase from just two years ago,” says O’Rourke.

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