The battery research centre: Developing materials-based technologies for energy storage systems

CSIR researchers are developing new material-based technologies which make up the components of battery cells. They hope to improve the electrochemical properties that are used in energy storage systems. A battery materials development and research centre at the CSIR in Pretoria is at the centre of this work.  

Most people understand that batteries store electricity and therefore are an important aspect of energy storage. They understand this because they use batteries in portable electronic devices such as cameras and cellphones. However, the scale at which energy has to be stored has taken on a whole new meaning with the introduction of large amounts of renewable energies in the form of solar photovoltaic and wind energy, into a power system. Renewable energy produced in excess of the grid’s immediate needs, can be stored for later use. Efficient energy storage is also necessary for energy supply when demand outstrips renewable energy supply. In short, while renewable energy generation has become a competitive technology, for it to be truly impactful, innovation is needed to revolutionise batteries.

South Africa is particularly well-positioned for research into energy storage, as energy and advanced materials derived from the country’s abundant manganese and other mineral resources can be tailored for the energy use in mobile and motor industries. The CSIR is experimenting and producing various materials that will be used amongst other applications, to best store renewable energy. Researchers are identifying and testing materials that can be made into products which will be supplied to firms to be used in cell assembly, battery modules, pack integration as well as end-user vehicle manufacturing.

A materials development and research facility tests the technologies with a specific focus on battery cathode materials, titanium-based anode materials and scaling up cathode material production. Researchers tailor the country’s varied battery mineral resources used in battery cell applications for mobile and stationary energy storage. The minerals are used to develop the materials composition, structure and product design, which needs to be integrated and dynamic. The market requirements for energy storage inform the product performance and lifetime testing standards. Once developed, the materials will be validated on their performance in the market. 

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Mkhulu Mathe