SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES | 5 April 2019
By Erica Jolly
VANADIUM, a chemical element with symbol V and atomic number 23, is named for the Scandinavian goddess of beauty and fertility, Vanadís (also known as Freyja, Gefn, Hörn, Mardöll, Sýr and Valfreyja).
The vanadium redox battery was invented by the Australian chemical engineer, Maria Skyllas-Kazacos of the University of New South Wales. In 1988, she obtained a US patent for her invention.
The vanadium redox battery will power both renewable energy and electric vehicles. [Norway already has 30% of its vehicles powered by electricity.]
Wilson da Silva tells the story of her work and this battery in an article, headlined ‘Power Shift’, in
Issue 82 of Cosmos magazine.
Wilson da Silva lists a number of interesting events in 1988 in the opening to his article and adds – “And while it doesn’t have quite such a recognition factor, 1988 was also the year Maria Skyllas-Kazacos, the Australian Professor of chemical engineering, obtained a US patent for inventing the vanadium redox battery, or VRB.”
One important event Wilson da Silva leaves out is the following. In 1988, when she obtained the US patent, on June 23rd 1988, the NASA scientist, James Hansen, testified to the United States Senate that man-made global warming had begun.
Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos was anticipating the need to find a way of storing energy, the clean energy storage we require across the so-called ‘cultural divide’ for every aspect of our life in this uncertain century. We need this storage to replace polluting fossil fuels. We have known about global warming for so long. Maria Skyllas-Kazacos’ invention after 34 years is coming into its own
Wilson da Silva writes about the vanadium redox battery’s ‘amazing capacity’. He quotes her words: “There was a huge lack of imagination,” recalls Maria Skyllas-Kazacos of her discussions with industry giants in the 1990s, when she was trying to commercialise the VRB patents she’d taken out for her employer, the University of New South Wales (UNSW). “People in the electricity sector didn’t seem to be aware of what technology was out there. But also, everyone was looking after their own interests, unfortunately. They weren’t looking at the big picture.”
And this Australian Coalition government, perhaps like this White House in USA, is not looking at the big picture now. That is Australia’s problem in 2019. The lack of imagination Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos recalls is here now. Add in the hunger to hold on to fossil-fuel based wealth by mining companies as long as it is profitable for them.
It has resulted, in this Coalition’s 2019/2020 budget, in an allocation of merely $3.5 billion over fifteen years [15 years] for the environment. Of that, $2 billion is for what Australia’s current government has the audacity to call its Climate Solutions Fund. Economists. and environmentalists find it a sign of the government’s disregard for the speed of climate change; that is, global warming.
A little girl and boy, aged five in 2019, will be 20 in 2034. They could be facing the shambles voters today might have left for them. Don’t let lack of imagination continue to play havoc with the future for them. Make the connections we need.