Media Release, The Royal Institution of Australia | 7 March 2019
THE KEY TO A BETTER future for the planet is not the ability to make clean, low-cost energy (because we can actually do that already). The game-changer is the ability to store that energy on an industrial scale, and release it instantly as required. Amazingly, an Aussie invention from 30 years ago is breathing new life into the planet’s prospects.
In the latest issue of leading Australian science publication COSMOS, science journalist Wilson da Silva explains why our use-it-or-lose-it energy system is based on a rickety concept which hasn’t changed since Thomas Edison built the first consumer power station in 1882. The Aussie battery invention may well change all that.
Our use-it-or-lose-it energy system is based on a rickety concept which hasn’t changed since Thomas Edison built the first power station in 1882. But the rise of the Tesla has shifted the goalposts.
The concept of having power ‘on demand’ has been at the basis of creating electricity ever since Edison, leading to an antiquated grid of wires and coal-powered generators. The recent arrival of wind and solar options has upset the status quo in more ways than one but, curiously, the rise of the electric car is paving the way for what happens next in our households.
The rise of the Tesla car company and the lithium-ion battery (also found in your phone) has shifted the goalposts. Future planned investments across the globe in electric cars, and also huge battery storage facilities feeding electricity grids (not unlike the one helping South Australia meet its needs) will move us closer to a better future. But the lithium-ion battery may not be the best way forward. Re-enter the forgotten Aussie breakthrough.
Back in 1988, Maria Skyllas-Kazacos, an Australian professor of chemical engineering, invented the vanadium redox battery, or VRB.
It stores energy on an industrial scale, becomes more cost effective the bigger it gets, and can discharge energy in fractions of a second.
Put simply, it stores energy on an industrial scale, becomes more cost effective the bigger it gets, and can discharge the energy in fractions of a second. Importantly, unlike lithium-ion batteries, it won’t catch fire. So why has it languished for so long?
The invention arrived at the wrong time, when electricity production was stuck in its 19th century ways. But Maria’s invention is now being trialled in Germany and China, where a massive complex is being built.
Thirty years after being ignored, its time has come … and the planet is set to benefit. Full details appear in COSMOS, March 2019 issue.
COSMOS is a science magazine produced by The Royal Institution of Australia Inc (RiAus), a science communications organisation based in Adelaide, Australia.