Large-scale iron flow battery commissioned in Queensland
A collaboration with Energy Storage Industries - Asia Pacific (ESI) and the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC), QUT aims to enable large-scale energy solutions to help meet clean energy targets set by state and federal governments.
The Queensland Government’s Energy and Jobs Plan, released in September 2022, set a target of 70% renewables in the energy grid by 2032. Steven Miles, Deputy Premier, said the plan has already created jobs in new industries like battery manufacturing.
Demand for large-scale batteries and storage will increase as solar and wind energy become more mainstream. Testing the battery at QUT’s Banyo facility is a step towards meeting renewable energy targets.
In Maryborough, construction is underway for Australia’s first large-scale iron flow battery manufacturing facility, being developed by ESI. A key part of the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan is the opportunity to design and manufacture batteries in the state.
Joshua Watts, NBTC Project Lead from the QUT Faculty of Science, said effective long-duration energy storage, such as flow batteries, is necessary to meet those targets and to support the intermittency of renewable energy such as wind and solar.
A flow battery contains two chemical solutions separated by a membrane. Electricity is stored and released through changes in the oxidation state of metal ions dissolved in solution.
“This particular battery shows great potential in providing large-scale, long-duration energy storage solutions to store energy for distribution when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining,” Watts said.
The battery is targeted towards large-scale solar and wind farms, or community developments looking to build in localised energy generation and distribution networks. The ‘Energy Warehouse’ iron flow battery being commissioned and tested at the NBTC is a 12-metre-long containerised system designed for large-scale energy generation and distribution support for the electricity grid.
“Energy Warehouse systems have the potential to store solar energy generated by residential solar arrays to assist with the management of excess energy that the current electricity transmission infrastructure can’t handle,” Watts said.
He said lithium batteries were more compact, but the cost of scaling them for long-duration storage applications could be an issue. Iron flow batteries are better suited for large-scale applications and offer ease of scalability for long-duration energy storage applications.
“Iron flow batteries are well suited for long-duration applications due to the nature of the energy storage mechanism, which is achieved through dissolved metal salts in aqueous solution. So, you just increase the electrolyte volume, and you increase the capacity. You only need to make the tank bigger,” Watts said.
Iron flow batteries are environmentally benign, fully recyclable and offer a potential lower cost per kWh for long-duration storage applications. They use simplified componentry and have the potential to be locally manufactured as they mainly comprise PVC pipes, water pumps and fiberglass tanks assembled in a 12-metre container.
Watts said iron flow batteries have an advantage when it comes to enlarging, repurposing or recycling.
“Iron flow batteries utilise a weakly acidic iron chloride solution which is non-toxic, simplifying the refurbishment and recycling process for these systems,” Watts said.
The NBTC is one of the projects funded by the FBICRC grant program. It is an example of QUT’s efforts in accelerating new energy storage solutions in support of Australia’s decarbonisation efforts. It will allow local battery system manufacturers to test and certify their products to Australian and international standards in Australia, enabling local manufacturers and industry to get products to market quicker.
“Enabling domestic manufacturing of battery cells and systems is critical to realising our clean energy targets, and with the current global demand there will definitely be an export market for these products as well,” Watts said. “But we’re also working with partners to develop safer systems, safer materials that go into cells and safer control methodologies.”
Watts and his team have been demonstrating the iron flow battery’s features to a range of government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) and private energy companies at the NBTC.
“And we’ll be going through — over the next three months or so — a rigorous testing regime in collaboration with potential off takers to test the battery under different use conditions to get these batteries out into the wild supporting the energy grid as soon as possible,” Watts said.
The next step will be supporting ESI in pilot manufacturing efforts to establish onshore large-scale manufacturing of the systems.
The Queensland Government’s recently released battery industry opportunities for Queensland discussion paper highlighted that many mature players across the entire battery value and supply chain are based in Queensland and there are many opportunities to deliver a strong local battery economy supporting both domestic and export markets.
Watts said QUT is ready to continue supporting ESI and other local battery industry partners under the roadmap and support provided by the Queensland Government.
Stuart Parry, Energy Storage Industries - Asia Pacific Managing Director, said the commissioning was a significant step towards securing Queensland’s future in renewable energy.
Parry said this technology puts the state on track to accelerate renewable energy storage as part of the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan.
“The National Battery Testing Centre has already demonstrated the potential of iron-flow technology, and this will be the first of many batteries that will support jobs and provide reliable energy across the state,” Parry said.
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