6 December 2023

WA inventor helps miners switch to clean energy

Thorion Energy (Thorion) is a battery technology company helping grids adapt to solar and wind power. Thorion has created a chloride-based vanadium electrolyte that can hold around 70% more power as compared to other vanadium chemistries. This makes the Thorion battery ideal for stationary, large-scale, multicycle storage.


Thorion’s modular design means installations can be scaled to stabilise grids of all sizes. The company trialled its batteries on mine sites in Western Australia and is now partnering with companies in Vietnam, India and Indonesia.

Grid-sized battery technology

Thorion has developed Australia’s first vanadium redox flow battery that is based on a chloride electrolyte. The company’s technology springs from research undertaken at the University of Sydney in the 1990s. Thorion has optimised a design and it’s now in use at remote mining sites in Western Australia.

Thorion’s Executive Director Paul Hersey says vanadium flow batteries can achieve for grids what lithium batteries achieved for electric vehicles.

‘Large-capacity batteries are the great, elusive prize of renewable energy,’ says Hersey. ‘With sufficient storage, we can level the peaks and troughs of solar and wind power. And with decentralised storage, we won’t need thousands of kilometres of new transmission lines.’

What makes Thorion batteries different is the vanadium electrolyte. Hersey says that batteries built using this electrolyte have 3 standout advantages.

‘First, vanadium flow batteries are long-life,’ he says. ‘There is only one chemical involved and therefore little degradation compared to other battery chemistries. We underwrite a 20 to 25-year life span with no loss of energy storage efficiency. That means a high return on investment.

‘Second, these batteries can operate at temperatures of up to 60oC. This is great for hot-climate solar scenarios because we don’t need to burn energy just to cool the battery.

‘Third, our batteries are safe and stable. The cells are inert and non-combustible. What’s more, chemical components are easier to recycle than they are in lithium batteries. This means they are kinder on the environment.’

These 3 features – plus high storage capacity – make vanadium batteries ideal for balancing load on grids that have intermittent generation.

Leading the charge into vanadium batteries

Thorion’s battery technology stems from vanadium pentoxide. The company has developed the chemical engineering processes needed to turn this oxide into an electrolyte suitable for batteries. Thorion owns the intellectual property (IP) behind this process. It works with partners in Australia and overseas to make vanadium electrolyte and build batteries to its own design.

‘Our model is to roll out our battery technology with channel partners,’ says Hersey. ‘We target companies that can manufacture our batteries. Then we help with commissioning.’

The company’s initial focus was on the mining industry in Western Australia. This targeted industrial-sized clients that rely on diesel generators in one of the hottest, sunniest parts of Australia.

‘Our first partner was SMEC Power and Technology, which services miners in Western Australia,’ says Hersey. ‘Our first deployments were standalone power systems for mining exploration camps.

‘The potential applications are vast, however. There is currently a flow battery that will ultimately scale to 800 MW in Dalian, China. It uses identical electrolyte chemistry under licence to our own.’

Four men in orange high visibility vests stand in front of a solar panel array and metal box housing a battery

 

Exporting battery expertise to Vietnam and India

Thorion is set to become an exporter. It has signed partnerships with companies in India, Indonesia and Vietnam. Thorion’s partnership in Vietnam is the most advanced and it was unveiled at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi.

‘In August 2023 we signed a contract with Viettel, which is one of Vietnam’s largest companies,’ says Hersey. ‘We will license our battery designs and share our operating procedures with Viettel. Our engineering teams and electricians will go to Vietnam and demonstrate how to manufacture the electrolyte.

‘Production will commence in 2024. Then we will help Viettel commission and support the battery plants.’

Austrade mission sparks overseas interest

Hersey credits Austrade with helping to initiate the partnership with Viettel. Thorion joined Austrade’s Energy Mission to Vietnam in March 2023.

‘We are immensely grateful to Austrade,’ says Hersey. ‘Our partnership in Vietnam would not have happened without the Vietnam trade mission and Austrade’s business-matching initiative.

‘Austrade advisors are also working with us in India. We travelled there with WA Investments, which is part of Invest and Trade Western Australia. These state-based officials worked with Austrade in southern India to organise introductions. That’s how we met our 2 forthcoming partners. Austrade has been a massive help to us.

‘As we expand, we look forward to facilitating the Australian vanadium export industry. Around 40% of the world’s vanadium deposits are in Australia. Vanadium mining has the potential to become as lucrative as lithium mining.’