5 Minutes With: Energy Renaissance’s Dr Howard Lovatt

Energy Renaissance chief technology officer Dr Howard Lovatt sits in front of harbour on sunny day
Energy Renaissance chief technology officer Dr Howard Lovatt

Energy Source & Distribution gets to know Energy Renaissance’s new Chief Technology Officer Dr Howard Lovatt.

Howard, please tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally: 

I was born in the UK and studied Electrical Engineering at Nottingham University. My university supervisor offered me a job in his startup, Switched Reluctance Drives (SRD) Ltd. After a few years I was ready to study more and SRD offered to sponsor my PhD at Leeds University. After Leeds and my PhD, I was offered a number of jobs and chose to work at CSIRO—but not really on well-thought-out grounds. I love travel and always wanted to go to Australia! I quickly fell in love with the country as it suited my interests of sport and hiking with the considerably improved weather. Later, I met my partner and we have a daughter that has flown the nest to university herself. Much to my surprise, I worked at CSIRO for 30 years on projects in various industries. I’ve achieved many successes at CSIRO such as creating an air conditioning system, Turbocor, for Casttikulm (subsequently sold to Danfoss) and the Holden eCommodore hybrid vehicle that led to subsequent work on the Volt and Bolt vehicles for GM. My work on the eCommodore led to battery and super capacity energy management and it eventually brought me to Energy Renaissance. I was offered the role of CTO, which I jumped at. After 30 years at CSIRO, it is a positive change. 

You’ve recently joined Energy Renaissance as its Chief Technology Officer. What drew you to the role? 

Energy Renaissance’s vision is to bring clean, stored energy everywhere and they are determined to be very good at what they do. Having worked with them while I was at CSIRO, I saw a very positive work environment where everyone was highly motivated to do the best they can for the business and the clean energy industry.

I enjoyed working at CSIRO and in many ways did not want to leave. One of the greatest things about working there is if you need to know something about engineering or science, there is an expert at CSIRO there to guide you through things.  

However, leaving CSIRO has given me the opportunity to bring the scientific and engineering knowledge that I’ve gained at the agency to take Energy Renaissance on the next phase of their journey to commercialise and build a world-leading lithium battery technology business. I’m going to be part of an exciting adventure with Energy Renaissance. What drew me to the role is the calibre of the team and seeing how everyone excelled in their roles. Having dealt with start-ups for over three decades, it is unusual to find a start-up that has such a large pool of talent.  

Batteries are crucial to Australia’s energy transition. How is Energy Renaissance innovating in this space? 

Batteries are the future for energy transition around the world, including Australia. There are no lithium battery manufacturers in Australia and we’re at risk of not achieving energy sovereignty. Having Energy Renaissance manufacturing onshore will improve our balance of trade, supply and accelerate Australia’s clean energy independence.

Australia has all the mineral resources it needs to manufacture precursors to scale its ambitions to become a global battery manufacturer and to make it viable for other companies to benefit from this industry. But we’re missing the opportunity by choosing to process our mineral resources offshore instead. Energy Renaissance is not only building the capacity of the battery industry in Australia. In the future, when its cell manufacturing facility is built, we will also be exporting battery cells overseas instead of importing them.

There are other concerns like the safety and reliability of some battery chemistries and battery designs operating in hot climates. Innovation at Energy Renaissance centres around designing and manufacturing a safe battery that can operate in a hot climate and making the cooling as effective as possible, optimised by the Battery Management System (BMS). 

Energy Renaissance has developed its own hardware and software as a sovereign capability. Because of safety concerns with batteries, it is important that the BMS can withstand a cyberattack, which could result in a battery fire. It is important that the BMS hardware and software stack is controlled by the battery supplier, and this is true for Energy Renaissance but not all suppliers.  

What are the main challenges for battery manufacturers at the moment? 

There are few companies that can buy batteries in Australia. Even if they are selling battery systems, they are often importing the whole system and they don’t control the technology stack and can’t substitute cells. Energy Renaissance is completely different. It has the whole technology stack from the system level, through BMS, and in the near future, battery cell manufacturing capabilities. The Renaissance One manufacturing facility will make battery systems and it will be the key customer for battery cells when the Renaissance Two—the cell manufacturing facility—starts to operate with further capacity planned to allow Energy Renaissance to sell its cells to other battery system suppliers. 

What would you like to see changed or improved in the renewables sector? 

We need to create a level playing field and this means getting the polluters to pay. Currently, there are polluting energy generators that are getting a subsidy and this is making it harder for renewables to grow and achieve its true potential.

Previous articleWA commits $11m to Clean Energy Future Fund
Next articleCEC: Renewables policies key to federal election