A developer of new low-cost, fire-resistant battery technology from the University of Sydney is listed on the London Stock Exchange.
The company, Gelion plc, is the university’s first listing in the market. It has raised £ 154million (AU $ 285million) to accelerate research and production of new storage products, primarily zinc bromide batteries.
While the combination was originally patented in 1889, the university team led by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer created a zinc bromide gel which they believe is a safer, more durable and cheaper form of storage. than the dominant lithium batteries.
“It won’t catch fire. If anything, that turns it off, ”said Maschmeyer, detailing some of the benefits of Gelion. “It has that high temperature operating window [up to 50C] and it’s really super safe, recyclable and has a very low environmental footprint.
In contrast, lithium batteries pose a greater risk of fire and perform less well in heat, requiring temperature checks and other engineering work, he said.
Lithium now dominates the battery market due to its relatively high energy density, which makes it suitable for mobile applications from smartphones to electric vehicles.
Other forms of storage, such as thermal energy or compressed air, are also competing for a market share which Bloomberg New Energy Finance this month is expected to increase from 17 gigawatts in 2020 to 358 GW cumulative by the end of the decade.
So far, Gelion’s total sales have totaled around $ 1 million as it groomed demo products using its Endure-branded battery. The company plans to use the funds raised from the listing to expand its manufacturing site in Fairfield, western Sydney, and to start producing batteries in India.
“I can see that Australian manufacturing is actually very dramatically improved to potentially reach gigawatt hour per year capacity,” Maschmeyer said.
Much of Gelion’s strategy relies on convincing existing lead-acid battery manufacturers to modernize their operations to use zinc bromide instead. Such a conversion to produce an annual output of 1 GW-hour would cost about $ 16 million ($ 22 million), compared to about $ 76 million to start a zinc bromide plant from scratch, or $ 135 million. for a lithium plant of similar size, he said. .
Once zinc bromide batteries can be produced on even a modest scale, their running cost will be 25% lower than lithium because they do not need fire extinguishing systems or air conditioning. , Maschmeyer predicted.
“System costs go down, go down, go down, and so already at a low level of manufacturing we are competitive,” he said. “We don’t need 10 GW hours [of scale] to reduce manufacturing costs.
Maschmeyer, who will step down as executive chairman of Gelion but will remain its chief technology adviser, said the company chose London over a Sydney listing in part because of UK tax incentives.
Australia is also a more risk averse market, with investors still frightened by the polarized debate over climate action sparked by Tony Abbott’s election in 2013.
“The Coalition’s climate wars have, you know, really hurt this whole investment climate and lead to investment uncertainty, and everyone hates uncertainty,” he said. “It wasn’t a huge difference at the end of the day, but it was quite a difference for us to go to the UK.”
Li Daixin, a China-based storage analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said that a zinc bromide battery “inherently has a lower energy density and a lower charge / discharge rate. [than lithium batteries] and therefore has a much more restricted application scenario ”.
“In addition, its further cost reduction is more difficult due to the lack of economies of scale,” Li said. “It primarily targets certain stationary storage applications that require long life systems. So I do not think that it can be considered as a competitor to lithium and that it could rather be complementary in the storage market for certain application scenarios.
Other technologies in Gelion’s pipeline include the development of silicon and sulfur additives that can improve the performance of lithium batteries. This technology would be licensed to existing battery markers rather than to the company trying to produce them.
“We’re just making lithium-ion and lithium-sulfur batteries more energy dense and less prone to thermal waste,” Maschmeyer said. “So we don’t eat in the same markets [as zinc-bromide]. They are completely separate markets.
The company plans to break even by early 2024. The enrollment will help increase the current staff in Australia from 30 to 45.
The University of Sydney’s 5% stake in Gelion will be reduced to less than 3% after the listing dilutes its stake.
Support from the university has shown “what is needed for a start-up to go all the way to listing and put its money where its mouth is,” Maschmeyer said. “They were just a real beacon.”