Solar benches power on into the night at University of Sydney

solar benches

Gelion Technologies, an Australian battery innovator, rolled out solar-powered benches at the University of Sydney, taking its revolutionary battery technology to pre-market stage.

The Endure batteries that power the off-grid smart benches will be the first commercial installation for the company, which was spun-out from the University of Sydney by founder and chemist, Professor Thomas Maschmeyer.

“To power a low-carbon society, we need cheap, safe and ubiquitous batteries for a renewables revolution,” said Professor Maschmeyer, a Eureka Prize winner for leadership in innovation and science.

“Our batteries use zinc bromide, an abundant, cheap resource that can be used safely in a wide range of environments off-grid or to supplement grid power.”

solar benches

The Endure zinc-bromide batteries are optimised for stationary energy storage and could be used to power a range of off- or on-grid applications in the industrial, commercial, agricultural and residential sectors. They are especially suited to hot and remote environments given their high-temperature capability and low-fade characteristics, even if completely charged and discharged on a daily basis.

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The installation unveiled today at the University’s Camperdown and Darlington campus is designed to extend lighting zones without mains infrastructure. It incorporates two seating benches and the photovoltaic solar roof doubles as shelter.

The first six benches also form part of the University’s living laboratory project as envisioned in the new sustainability strategy.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said the collaboration between University Infrastructure and Gelion highlights the University of Sydney’s commitment to research innovation, commercialisation and the environment.

“We want to be part of the global energy transformation under way,” he said.

“Gelion’s technology is well placed to provide low-carbon, renewable storage solutions for an energy-hungry world.”

Australian manufactured

The Endure battery is a local manufacturing success story, with participation from manufacturers in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. More than a dozen local manufacturers have contributed components from forming plastics, machining and fabrication to design and final assembly and testing at Gelion’s facility at the National Innovations Centre (Cicada Innovations) in Sydney’s Eveleigh precinct.

“We want to provide solutions for Australia and produce ready-to-export technology that can power renewables worldwide,” Professor Maschmeyer said.

According to the Clean Energy Council, the renewables industry has been one of Australia’s extraordinary success stories over the past decade and stands ready to lead the post-COVID economic recovery. Key to enabling the uptake of clean energy is expanding the amount of energy storage on the grid. To decarbonise the global economy, the world needs to significantly improve the performance and cost efficiency of energy storage.

Safe and scalable technology

Gelion has reimagined the zinc-bromide chemistry, changing it from flow to non-flow. This has created a battery optimised for energy storage, which is safe, robust, cost-effective and fully recyclable. Endure offers a viable alternative to lithium-ion batteries by leveraging manufacturing from the established lead-acid battery ecosystem.

The result is a scalable battery that can help unlock the potential of renewables, making them cheaper, safer and more deployable.

Professor Maschmeyer said, “Our Endure batteries have a significant advantage in the Australian market, where off-grid battery demands can be very challenging.

Endure can operate at high temperature without air-conditioning. The batteries by themselves cannot catch fire as the materials are highly flame retardant.

“This means the technology can be deployed in the mining and agriculture industries as well as in remote settlements where mains power is not readily available.”

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Gelion’s robust and safe chemistry makes the expensive and complex auxiliary systems typically associated with other battery types unnecessary. As the Endure battery technology does not require air-conditioning, fire suppression or acid catchment areas, the overall costs and difficulty of the battery installation are substantially reduced.

Unlike most other batteries, the Endure battery can be transported and stored with zero voltage, a significant advantage for logistics, safety and cost. The gel used in the Gelion platform has fire-retardant properties, making the batteries resistant to overheating and exploding and are therefore ideally suited for tough and remote environments, for example in off-grid and agricultural markets.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Duncan Ivison said, “This collaboration is an excellent example of the pivotal role universities play in the creation of new technology industries in Australia and the support we can give to build a new, high-value-added manufacturing sector.”