Battery tech to unlock Australia’s commercial potential

2020 IFM Lab Deakin Burwood

And it is the research and development of battery technologies out of IFM that could not only advance one of the world’s most widely used energy storage solutions but also help give Australia’s battery manufacturing industry the boost it needs to become a global leader. 

The Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC) brings researchers together with industry, governments and the community “to create the tools, technologies and skills to grow the role of battery storage in Australia’s electricity grids, and make Australia a larger player in global battery value chains”.

One project out of FBICRC is led by the director of storEnergy and deputy director of IFM Professor Maria Forsyth. The project, which started in April 2021, focuses on future electrolyte materials that can be used to produce high performance and high energy-density Li-ion/Li metal batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are the most widely used batteries in the world – found in most electronic equipment, they have the capability to be recharged over and over again, and if recycled, 90 percent of its materials can be recovered.

‘The development of new electrolyte systems will enhance the safety and enable high performance, high energy-density Li batteries that can operate in extreme environments, such as at high temperatures,’ says Dr Kalani Periyapperuma, Associate Research Fellow and the project manager on the FBICRC project.

Working in partnership with Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and CSIRO, Dr Periyapperuma alongside two other research fellows – based at Deakin and QUT – are currently working on battery electrolyte formulations, separator and binder materials that are compatible with high-energy lithium ion/lithium metal battery chemistries.  

There are also two PhD students based at Deakin – one working on understanding the degradation mechanism of graphite anode materials for Li-ion batteries and the other on understanding and tuning battery electrolyte/electrode interfaces via molecular simulation.

‘Currently, safe high-energy density batteries incorporating, for example, Si, NMC and Li metal electrodes, are hampered by the low voltage and thermal stability of the electrolyte system,’ Dr Periyapperuma says.

‘Through the development of new electrolyte formulations, binders, and separators, as well as charging protocols, this project will enable high performance and high energy-density Li-ion/Li metal batteries.

‘For lithium-ion batteries, currently manufacturers use carbonate electrolyte blends. They’re cheap, highly conductive and fluid liquids, however, they have safety concerns due to high volatility and their reactivity with metals such as lithium.

‘The ionic liquid systems that we are looking at are safer and provide high chemical and electrochemical stability compared to conventional organic electrolytes. However, they are relatively expensive and also less fluid, more viscous – honey-like materials compared to more fluid organic solvents. 

‘What we want to do is to combine the best of both worlds – combine the best properties of both of these materials and offer hybrid electrolyte systems that are safe and stable for batteries.

‘This will enable new pathways to achieve improved battery performance with respect to energy density, cycle life, power and thermal stability by designing selective ion transport and stable solid electrolyte interphase properties through optimising the electrolyte system and formation steps.’

Dr Periyapperuma says broadly the project aims to expand available markets for Australian resources and manufacturing companies by delivering new battery and energy technology materials and products into global markets.

‘The resulting technologies will enable increased battery implementation through enhanced competitiveness, durability and sustainability, also contributing to job creation for a new battery technology workforce,’ she says.

In 2021, FBICRC released a report called “Future Charge: Building Australia’s Battery Industries”, which showed that diversified battery industries could contribute $7.4 billion annually to Australia’s economy and support 34,700 jobs by 2030.

The type of jobs created from the advancements in electrolyte systems can range from battery material manufacturing to on-shore battery manufacturing capabilities. 

Dr Periyapperuma says working with industry will be key to the success of the project. 

Currently there are eight industry partners linked to the project – Solvionic S.A., Alpha HPA Limited, FYI Resources Ltd, BHP Nickel West Pty Ltd, Blackstone Minerals Limited, Calix Limited, GMG Ltd, Talga Group Ltd – but more are needed.

‘There is an urgent need to work closely with industry to stay globally competitive by developing new technologies in order to create and expand new markets for efficient energy storage and clean energy technologies,’ Dr Periyapperuma says.

‘The development of next-generation battery storage targeted at operational needs and climate extremities in Australia will improve the reliability and cost effectiveness of energy supply, particularly for remote and rural communities. 

‘In addition, the pathway for product development through to commercialisation will enable Australian companies to keep their developed IP on-shore, and linking materials and component production to a nascent Australian cell manufacturing capability will help to establish a sovereign cell manufacturing supply chain, critical for Australia’s energy security in an emerging renewable energy economy.

‘The whole idea behind this research is to show that Australia is capable. It has the knowledge and the know-how and also the people to do the research and development inside Australia. 

‘And hopefully it will show that we are capable of going into the market.’