Here Come the ANZACs!
Battery Mania in Regional Victoria, Australia
Deakin University in Victoria and ASX-listed PPK Group in Brisbane have teamed up to commercialise a breakthrough in lithium battery technology: lithium sulphur (Li-S) batteries.
Li-S battery technology has been around for 20 years, but until now has not outperformed the current gold standard, lithium-ion batteries. The secret sauce behind Deakin’s breakthrough is a low-cost production method using Boron Nitride Nanotubes (BNNT), a heat-resistant nanomaterial that stabilises Li-S batteries. The breakthrough with BNNT, when combined with another composite, has enabled the inventors to create an advanced Li-S battery that outperforms lithium-ion on multiple levels.
Deakin’s partnership with PPK Group involves two companies: Li-S Energy (of which PPK owns 48 per cent) and BNNT Technology (50 per cent). Li-S Energy claims that its new batteries have a theoretical energy capacity of more than five times their lithium-ion counterparts - with faster charging, significant weight savings and enhanced safety due to a lower tendency to overheat. What’s not to love about that?
Li-S Energy CEO Lee Finniear says "This has the potential to make a dramatic impact on the global stage. Lithium-ion batteries are reaching their maximum theoretical energy density. People have been optimising them for decades. However, Panasonic which makes the Tesla batteries have said they are only going to improve their batteries by 20 per cent in the next four to five years. When you start looking at climate change, a better battery is going to be essential."
“Our next step is to optimise the construction and performance of the battery cells we are producing to drive them as far as we can," says Finniear.
The road to commercialising the technology has been 10 years in the making, building on research undertaken at Deakin University. Li-S Energy has filed two key provisional patents covering the function of BNNT within the lithium sulphur battery chemistry. The new technology covered by these patents has the potential to make large-scale manufacturing of lithium sulphur batteries commercially viable for the first time.
This breakthrough could just position the regional Victorian city of Geelong as a new powerhouse in the development of the next generation of batteries that will accelerate the take-up of EVs globally. The Li-S Energy and BNNT Technology teams work in collaboration at Deakin University's advanced manufacturing precinct in Geelong.
Just who are the backers of this highly prospective technology? PPK Group is a Brisbane-based ASX-listed technology investment company. Its Chair Robin Levison is well-known for turning Australian "penny stock" Industrea into a significant mining products and services player before selling it to General Electric in 2012 for an Enterprise Value of $700 million.
Levison says "this as a massive opportunity firstly for Australia where we have developed a technology which no one else in the world, including NASA, has been able to commercialise. The real money comes from the development and commercialisation of the science, and we're now on the cusp of being very ready to enter a massive commercial market."
Levison says that while it is unlikely that lithium sulphur batteries will be mass-produced in Australia, the licensing revenue should deliver an economic dividend for PPK and the technology sector generally.
Li-S Energy recently bolstered its capital position with a $20 million pre-IPO capital raising, ahead of its planned IPO on ASX. The market certainly seems to like it, with PPK among the strongest performers on ASX since releasing its news.
Alan Kohler discusses the technology here in the Eureka Report, and Robin Levison discusses Li-S here on ABC Radio.
Vector - Sassy Software for the Energy Sector
As we explained in Viva la Revolucion!, balancing electricity demand with supply is becoming a significant challenge for power distribution networks, especially given the confluence of a fast-growing EV population while the world shifts to renewable energy.
The conventional logic is that if everyone buys EVs we will go well down the road to building a more sustainable future. But what isn’t discussed enough is the inability of our power networks to handle the extra load from EV charging. It will cost billions of dollars - if not trillions - to upgrade the world’s power lines to handle an all-EV fleet.
At the same time, pressure is building to generate and use energy in new ways, for example peer-to-peer (P2P) energy trading. This is the buying and selling of energy between two or more grid-connected parties, often in the form of solar energy. P2P energy trading allows consumers the choice to decide on whom they purchase electricity from (which could include your EV), and whom they sell it to.
The trading of energy is done through a secure platform, and will allow consumers to share their excess energy amongst one another and control how it’s distributed through microgrids. Even if you don’t have solar panels, you will still be able to purchase clean energy from other suppliers of choice (like your neighbour).
Got all that? Enter Kiwi power grid owner Vector, which has ~1.6 million smart meters installed in households across Australia and New Zealand. Vector has entered a partnership with Amazon Web Services to build a software platform to solve these very challenges.
Its "New Energy Platform" which combines AWS's Internet of Things analytics with Vector's industry expertise, is being built to provide the insights on network performance needed to better plan power networks, drive smarter investment decisions, and increase reliability for consumers.
The alliance currently operates in Australia and New Zealand, but Vector has ambitions to expand into overseas markets.
Vector CEO Simon Mackenzie says that legacy platforms will no longer meet the requirements of savvy energy consumers as networks move away from centrally planned markets (with remote generators sending power one-way down lines to customers) towards a market involving highly complex customer requirements (around electric cars, solar panels and control over home energy use) and lower costs.
"To enable that in any part of the system it really starts with the power of information and knowledge to learn what are those impacts that might be arising from customers," he said.
Until recently, data from Vector's smart meters in New Zealand would take up to 29 hours to be processed, but as a result of work by the partners, tens of millions of data feeds are now being processed in less than two hours, with a view to turn that into real-time processing.
We’re looking forward to seeing the New Energy Platform in action, and to updating our readers as it is rolled out. This sort of intelligent software platform is central to reducing billions of dollars in future capex, and to managing the energy transition.
Tritium Charges ahead with Public Listing
The Brisbane-based manufacturer of superfast EV chargers, Tritium, has announced a SPAC deal that will result in it becoming listed on the NASDAQ market, with the ticker symbol ‘DCFC’.
Tritium was launched 20 years ago by e-mobility pioneers David Finn, James Kennedy and Paul Sernia. The company designs, develops and manufactures proprietary hardware for advanced and reliable DC fast charging. With a 20-year history in advanced power electronics and electric transportation, Tritium started as a developer of technology for solar race cars and other unique projects, like the battery management system for James Cameron’s “Deepsea Challenger” submersible.
Tritium sees itself as a global market leader in reliable, fast EV charging technology, and expects to benefit from the expected upsurge in the EV market. As more EVs hit the road, demand for charging hardware and infrastructure is expected to grow at 25 percent per annum through to 2040. According to a report in the industry newsletter TechCrunch, Tritium’s largest market is in Europe, which accounts for 70 percent of revenue. .
In a company media release, Tritium CEO Jane Hunter said that electrification of the transport sector -including passenger vehicles and freight-delivers benefits beyond individual consumers. She says energy storage technology turns EVs into ‘batteries on wheels’. “Our industry is essential to achieving global emission reduction targets both through increased adoption of electric vehicles and the deployment of EVs for mass energy storage technology,” Hunter says. “Drivers will want the experience of public charging to be as close as possible to their current experience at the gas pump — just a few minutes to get enough range to get on with your day,” Hunter told TechCrunch.
The SPAC deal is expected to raise around AUD$500 million to fund both current operations and future growth.
Auckland Lab to Lead the Wireless Charge
In May, WiTricity, a US-based wireless power company, announced the opening of a development lab in Auckland specifically focused on advancing developments in wireless EV charging.
Auckland, Noo Zeeland? Yes, and there are actually good reasons for this. Back in the nineties, the University of Auckland (whose Electrical Engineering Department has done more to develop wireless power technologies than almost anywhere else), spun out a portion of its technology portfolio into two companies which each focused on different downstream usage cases for wireless power transmission - one for EV charging, and the other for device charging.
The device-charging company, formed in 2007, was called PowerbyProxi. It did several fundraising rounds, and our New Zealand partner John Moore advised on its Series D raising in 2015, before it was acquired by Apple on confidential terms in 2017.
The EV-focused company, formed in 2010, was called Halo IPT. It was sold to Qualcomm in 2011, which subsequently sold a majority stake to WiTricity, a Massachusetts-based wireless power company, in 2019.
Still with us? Halo has since been working with Qualcomm on the development of inbuilt charging pads for EVs, while looking further ahead to more innovative technologies like placing power charging strips on the highway. Things have now gone full circle, with WiTricity looking to tap into Auckland’s expertise in the technologies for wireless power transmission.
The Auckland operation will be led by Michael Kissin and Jonathan Beaver, two veterans of the wireless charging industry. From this base the company plans to link up again with the University of Auckland to tap into the expertise of more than 40 PhD and postdoctoral researchers to recruit local talent for the WiTricity lab.
WiTricity CEO Alex Gruzen says the research team at the University of Auckland brings a “unique and critical perspective” to wireless charging applications. “With the opening of our new space, we look forward to further collaboration with the incredible resources at the university and in New Zealand to advance seamless global adoption of EV wireless charging,” says Gruzen.
Those Reparkable Kiwis are at it Again
The convergence of software, energy and mobility isn’t going to disrupt just the automotive and energy industries. Among other businesses, it’s going to have a profound impact on the car parking industry.
As the world plans for a significant leap in the number of EVs on the road, CBD parking spaces have been declining. At the same time, COVID-19 and hybrid working have created a demand for more flexibility with parking. Demand profiles have suddenly changed, and it is clear that the parking industry needs a rethink.
Several thorny issues are going to need resolution, such as working out who gets access to parking spaces and when, maximising the monetary value of assets and using them efficiently, and whether parking spaces should be repurposed for a better use.
Needs associated with car parking are also changing - for example, ~50 percent of all businesses in the UK are planning to install EV charger infrastructure in the coming 12 months, driving a need for new infrastructure and management tools.
The good news is that Parkable, an Auckland New Zealand headquartered SaaS platform, has built a solution that enables businesses to allocate, share and prioritize access for different users (and groups of users) in the car park. Think "hot desking for car parks", enabling people to book, find, access and pay for parking, and administrators (who might not be parking businesses!) to manage and optimise workplace parking assets.
Parkable enables businesses to manage and monetise EV charger infrastructure more efficiently. This includes fully utilising charger assets, controlling access and pricing for different user groups, and balancing electrical loads in the building, thereby minimizing new infrastructure costs. The SaaS solution will only release energy to the EV chargers when the building has spare capacity, or it can balance demand across banks of chargers to balance electrical loads.
In the future, smart software will be required to deliver energy from EVs back to the building at times of peak demand to protect both the building and the grid and importantly for cash-strapped CFOs, to defer new capital expenditure until it is truly necessary.
Parkable has trials underway or planned with major partners around the world. We think this has the capacity to change the game for consumers, building owners, and tenants. Not to mention old-style car parking operators.
The Wrap. Surprising, isn’t it? The amount of thought, investment and sheer pluck being shown by the ANZAC innovators who are working on the convergence of software, energy and mobility. Watch this parking space.