Alternative energy storage solutions find their niche

Update from storEnergy Director

As we emerge from the COVID pandemic, it seems that everything in the energy storage arena is moving at a rapid pace all over the world, including in Australia.  Governments are eager to move to achieve the Net Zero target and in so doing recognise this cannot be done without adequate, reliable energy storage options.  While Europe focuses on EVs and builds dozens of Gigafactories to make LIBs to satisfy the growing market of EVs, others, including Australia, are also focusing on stationary storage.  LIBs will play a role in stationary storage to be sure, however, it is pleasing to see that electrolyser factories are being built to produce hydrogen for hydrogen storage, and other technologies, including Vanadium Flow Batteries, Zinc batteries and Sodium Ion Batteries (SIBs), are finding their niche.  This ‘niche’ is rather large when you consider the projected size of the market and also take into account the probable ongoing increase of cost  and potential scarcity of materials required for LIBs.  It is therefore critical that these alternative technologies continue to be seriously developed alongside incremental improvements in LIBs and LIB manufacturing as the materials supply chain for these technologies is significantly more sustainable, particularly in the case of SIBs.

In early October I attended the International Battery Association Meeting held in the beautiful picturesque town of Bled in Slovenia.  With nearly 200 attendees and excellent scientific presentations and posters, a few clear messages came through. Firstly, how to make LIBs more sustainable  and safer, for example by changing to solvent free manufacturing of electrode materials to remove toxic NMP; by looking to improve manufacturing processes by use of computer simulations based on physics models combined with AI; and developing all solid state batteries based on inorganic electrolytes, polymers and/or their composites. In addition to significant discussion on lithium technologies and the SEI layer, there were several presentations on other sustainable technologies being developed, including SIBs.

The French company TIAMAT presented a roadmap for their SIB technology based on vanadium fluorphosphate cathodes, which looks highly promising, in particular for high rate, high power performance.  There are now four or five companies worldwide commercialising SIBs, including Faradion (recently purchased by Indian company Reliance), CATL and HiNa (both in China) and Natron, with an aqueous based technology.  Through storEnergy and Deakin’s BatTRIhub we are continuing to collaborate with some of these companies to develop Sodium battery technologies. Indeed, we are already collaborating with Faradion to demonstrate improved cycling and safety with our ionic liquid electrolytes. The results I presented from storEnergy research fellow Dr Jenny Sun led to much discussion and sparked interest from TIAMAT and the associated CNRS research professors in Amien and Bourdeaux. Dr Faezeh Makhlooghiazad also presented her storEnergy work on the new zwitterionic materials developed by Prof Jenny Pringle in collaboration with Boron Molecular, which was well received.

On the topic of ionic liquids, it was great to hear the talk from our FBICRC collaborator Solvionic regarding the use of these safer electrolytes in LMNO high voltage devices and, even more excitingly, that they are gearing up to make tonnes per month of ionic liquids by the end of this year. The Solvionic roadmap for ionic liquid manufacture and deployment is very promising, with the cost of fluorosulfonamide (FSI) based ILs being estimated at US$80 per kg.  Even if this price is higher than traditional organic solvents, the improved safety and the ability to cut out costly manufacturing processes such as degassing and potentially simplify other processing steps will ultimately far outweigh the increased materials cost.  The work being undertaken in storEnergy by PhD students Dale Duncan, Greg Rollo-Walker and Hridip Sarma, together with postdocs Dr Ajit Kumar and Dr Jenny Sun on both ionic liquid and polymerised ionic liquid (PIL) enabled sodium battery technologies are sure to make a positive contribution in this space. Stay tuned!