Battery production gigafactory to be built in Darwin

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A consortium is planning to build a battery production gigafactory in Darwin by the end of 2018, which would make it Australia’s first large-scale lithium-ion manufacturing plant.

Energy Renaissance, which is backed by engineering group UGL, said the manufacturing plant will cost $100 million and will include four distinct production lines targeting niche utility and industrial-scale markets in Australia and Asia.

Energy Renaissance is partnering with US battery storage company 24M. The project  enjoys the support of the NT’s Labor Government, which has a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030.

It is not the only proposal for such a plant, with the Boston Energy consortium led by former Macquarie Group property magnate Bill Moss proposing a much larger 15GWh production line in Townsville.

New battery storage facility proposed for Alice Springs

A 5MW battery storage installation was announced for Alice Springs, where Vector Energy won a tender for LG Chem batteries that will allow a significant increase in solar capacity in the city which, already has the highest penetration in the country.

Energy Renaissance MD Brian Craighead

Energy Renaissance managing director Brian Craighead said Australia was a logical place to build a gigafactory, given its obvious demand for battery storage, its abundant resources of lithium, cobalt and graphite, and the fact that it is close to Asian markets.

Battery storage is expected to be a huge market in Australia, with the likes of the CSIRO predicting more than 90GWh of battery storage, much of it “behind the meter” by households and businesses, but also partnered with large scale renewables and in grids.

Lyon Group has also announced projects in Victoria totalling 1GW of battery storage to accompany its planned solar installations, to help with grid security, offset network upgrades, smoothing out solar power and shifting loads.

Craighead said the factory will focus on the utility, industrial, defence, telco, mining, and off-grid sectors – and not the household market. Around 70 per cent of production will be targeted for export.

The technology – semi-solid lithium-ion – will be designed to compensate for the warmer climate in Australia and Asia. Its target market means container-style installations full of batteries, and temperature control is the key.

“Batteries in Australia are still pretty expensive. And although the cost per kWh is coming down due to the scale of manufacturing, most of the chemistries have an operating window of around 25°C. So you need air conditioning to keep temperatures down, and that’s a significant parasitic load.”

Craighead expects to have up to seven different production lines producing niche products – all of around 150MWh each. He expects four such lines to be in place by the opening late next year.

Darwin chosen over Newcastle, Geelong and Gladstone

He says Darwin was chosen over other port cities, such as Newcastle, Geelong and Gladstone, because of the availability of raw materials, the proximity to Asian markets, the local engineering expertise and the support of the government.

The size of the plant is dwarfed by the 50GWh Tesla gigafactory currently being completed in Nevada, but that factory has a guaranteed market for Tesla electric vehicles and its Powerpack and Powerwall products.

“Energy storage is the key to the future,” he says. “There are times when pumped hydro works perfectly, time for hybrid plants, and times for battery storage. Stored energy makes so many things possible that weren’t possible before.”

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