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Could the Top End become the battery capital of Australia?

We missed the boat with PV, but healthy stocks of lithium and two new proposed battery plants in the north could see Australia become a battery producing powerhouse.

The Northern Territory could become a major player in the renewable energy transition, with Energy Renaissance securing government support for a one gigawatt-hour lithium-ion battery factory in Darwin.

The manufacturing plant, Renaissance One, will produce containerised batteries suitable for large-scale energy storage using battery technology it has licensed from US innovator 24M.

The semi-solid lithium-ion technology is particularly suited to regions with high temperatures and high humidity, capable of operating safely at ambient temperatures of 45 degrees.

Founded in 2015, Energy Renaissance is a privately owned company chaired by former Regional Australia Institute chair Su McCluskey.

Investors include engineering services provider UGL, which will engineer and construct the facility.

A Department of Trade, Business and Innovation spokesperson said the government was actively assisting Energy Renaissance to develop the project. This includes helping the company identify the regulatory processes and approvals that must be met, and assisting it secure its preferred site.

The government also contributed $40,000 towards the analysis and completion of a detailed feasibility study into Darwin being the site location earlier this year.

“The Territory Labor Government wants to secure jobs of the future now,” NT chief minister Michael Gunner said earlier this month.

“This is why we are supporting innovative investments such as Energy Renaissance’s battery manufacturing project in Darwin.”

A statement from Energy Renaissance said the agreement on support “could not have come at a better time”.

The project has the potential to create 30 local jobs during construction and once fully operational in approximately five years, up to 1000 new direct and indirect jobs in manufacturing, operations and logistics.

As part of its commitment to 50 per cent renewables by 2030, the government has commissioned the development of “Roadmap to Renewables” to secure, reliable and least-cost electricity service for all Territorians.

“The Territory recognises that battery storage will be an important element in future renewable energy propositions,” the government spokesperson said.

Aussie materials proposed

Energy Renaissance has said the factory will use Australian raw materials, although some overseas processing may initially be needed.

Manganese is one of the key minerals that will be used and it is currently mined in the Territory.

While lithium is not currently mined in the NT, exploration is currently being undertaken and the government says “results look promising”.

Long-term, a complementary processing businesses may emerge in the local area.

The plans also include powering the facility via solar power, and using an emissions-free and effluent-free manufacturing process.

The seven production lines will have a combined capacity of 1GW of battery storage annually, with plans to supply commercial and utility-scale installations in Australian and South-East Asia.

The first cells are planned to roll off the production line by late 2018.

“Battery storage will be an important element in future renewable energy propositions and it is exciting Energy Renaissance has identified Darwin as their preferred site,” Mr Gunner said.

“Darwin is the capital of the north and we provide strategic advantages with our proximity to market. Projects such as this will help the Territory’s economy grow over the long term, creating exciting local job and career opportunities for Territorians.”

Townsville also looking into battery manufacture

Darwin is not the only far north location slated for battery storage manufacture.

The Boston Energy Innovation Consortium, comprising Magnis Resources Limited, Eastman Kodak Company, C4V incorporated and C&D Assembly Incorporated has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Townsville City Council to investigate the feasibility of constructing a 15GWh battery manufacturing plant.

The consortium estimated that once in full production, the plant would have the capability of producing either 250,000 lithium ion electric vehicle car batteries a year with up to 400km range per battery, or one million home battery units.

In June, Townsville approved a planning report recommending the council offer a portion of land at Woodstock for the proposal, which is backed by a consortium led by Boston Energy and Innovation.

The land is part of the former CSIRO Lansdown research station, purchased by the council in 2002 to provide for future industrial uses.

It proposed the land could be exchanged for equity in the project under a specially set-up council business entity.

Mayor Jenny Hill said selecting a suitable site showed the consortium behind the proposal that the city was ready for business.

“We have to make sure we keep the momentum going behind our negotiations and the fact that we now have a suitable site is a big step forward,” Ms Hill said.

“The battery plant has the potential to create enormous economic benefits for the city and we are doing all we can to make it stack up.

“In addition to thousands of direct and indirect jobs, taking equity in the project in exchange for the value of the land will generate an on-going revenue stream for ratepayers.”

An opportunity for an Australian manufacturing market

Australian Energy Storage Council chief executive John Grimes said Australia was at the global forefront of the storage market.

Currently, the AESC is undertaking a review of the market for batteries. Initial findings are that demand and take-up here is as “strong as anywhere”.

In terms of that demand scaling up, he said that production capability for storage was the “crucial piece” in terms of the cost curve.

Mr Grimes said the Australian market would support an Australian-made product, as it could both lower prices and provide quality assurance.

Australia is also well-positioned in terms of lithium – controlling about 30 per cent of the world’s known lithium resources, with high grade reserves.

“The time is absolutely right” for the Darwin facility, he said.

“We missed the boat with solar PV – even thought it was an Australian innovation. Most of the manufacturing is offshore.

“We have an opportunity with storage.”

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