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6 May 2015
UWC launches Energy Storage Innovation Lab

UWC Energy Storage Innovation Lab researchers tackle SA’s energy crisis

The University of the Western Cape has merged expertise in advanced battery development, manufacturing and validation to form the new Energy Storage Innovation Lab (ESIL), launched on campus on 6 May 2015.

ESIL is the culmination of many years of research, development and innovation at the South African Institute for Advanced Materials Chemistry at UWC, especially in the field of Lithium-Ion and Sodium-Halide batteries, battery modules and integrated energy storage systems.

The strength of the lab lies in the development, validation and localisation of wide range energy storage systems for South African industry and communities. The lab also has an extensive network of energy storage developers, and manufacturing and system integrators from South Africa, China, India, USA, Germany and other countries.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General of the Department of Science and Technology, noted that the partnership between UWC and DST is appreciated, and that ESIL’s technological innovations have a vital role to play in South Africa’s future..

“It is important for us to find these technologies in the marketplace in the future,” he said. “They need to be commercialised - and we will help with finding funding for these projects. It is very important to ensure the public will have their hands on them in the future as well.”

Eskom’s General Manager of Research Testing and Development, Barry MacColl, agreed. “These inventions are not only important for South Africa’s energy needs, but also for job creation in our country,” he said. “We hope to have a good partnership with UWC and DST for many more years.”

Energy storage can mitigate the negative effects of power outages, assist in improving national grid stability, and enabling South Africa to tap into its vast renewable energy potential, specifically from wind and solar sources.

Of course, for the inventions to have a real impact, they need to work - and they need to work at the right price. “Our sun quality is far better than California’s, and these products could rival those of Elon Musk,” MacColl remarked, invoking the South African-born tech entrepreneur who founded Tesla Motors and who has made significant advances in energy storage technology.

ESIL boasts high-tech battery integration and production facilities, and has been involved in the development of a number of advanced storage systems. ESIL’s modular battery system (MBS) is scalable and modular, with series and parallel connection capability, and is stackable and easily integrated for a range of applications, including (thus far) golf carts, battery electric vehicles, backup power solutions, off-grid power systems and grid-connected storage.

The production of pouch (15-20 Ah) and cylindrical cells (2 Ah) suitable for energy storage applications includes solar and wind applications. The lab also develops low-cost thermal cells for grid scale stabilisation and energy storage.

Professor Bernard Bladergroen, Head of ESIL, noted that with the current strain on the electricity grid in South Africa, and the growing deployment of renewable energy to meet energy needs while mitigating the effects of climate change, there is a clear need for reliable and cost-effective energy storage solutions.

“Now is the right time for customers, innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs in the energy storage arena to get together and work towards sustainable energy solutions,” he said.