Energy storage for the Tasmanian Project

3 02 2016

I’ve done it.  I’ve ordered my Nickel Iron batteries and Victron charger/inverter. Once I’ve ironcoreascertained whether or not I can afford it, I will purchase a second Victron for future backup, fingers crossed the economy (and our funds!) hold out long enough.  The batteries, a 48V 200Ah bank, won’t get here from Russia for another six or so weeks, and when they do, I’ll post more about the installation.


Victron inverter/charger

What really got me started re posting this was the extraordinary episode of Catalyst aired on ABC TV last night….

Anyone watching this will have been totally taken over by techno utopianism of the highest quality.  Dr Jonica Newby is a veterinarian, and unfortunately doesn’t seem to know the difference between power and energy, but maybe I’m just splitting hairs….. it was nonetheless frustrating to constantly hear battery banks rated in kW rather than kWh, big difference….

The “we’ll be saved by these batteries” gushing coming from everyone’s mouths in this show was only interrupted for a few seconds when one commentator expressed his doubt over the financial viability of the very first Tesla power wall installed in Australia.  He asked how this was remotely viable when the payback was 23 years, and the equipment was only warranted for 10? Which was swiftly glossed over for the remaining 25 minutes and never mentioned again…..

Worse, the evangelical fervour used to extol the virtues of Lithium Ion batteries, a technology that I am certain will disappoint a lot of owners in the future, bordered on religion……  think back to how long batteries in your laptops and cell phones last, and wonder how long before all that stuff ends up on landfill.

From Computer World:

Dell plans to recycle however many of the 4.1 million recalled batteries that customers turn in (see Dell battery recall not likely to have big environmental impact), but what happens to the other 2 billion lithium ion batteries which will be sold this year? Most will last for 300 to 500 full recharges (one to three years of use) before failing and ending up in your local municipal landfill or incinerator.

Europeans have a dimmer view of landfilling lithium ion batteries. “There is always potential contamination to water because they contain metals,” says Daniel Cheret, general manager at Belgium-based Umicore Recycling Solutions. The bigger issue is a moral one: the products have a recycling value, so throwing away 2 billion batteries a year is just plain wasteful – especially when so many American landfills are running out of space. “It’s a pity to landfill this material that you could recover,” Charet says. He estimates that between 8,000 and 9,000 tons of cobalt is used in the manufacture of lithium ion batteries each year. Each battery contains 10 to 13% cobalt by weight. Umicore recyles all four metals used in lithium ion batteries.

The reason why more lithium ion batteries aren’t recycled boils down to simple economics: the scrap value of batteries doesn’t amount to much – perhaps $100 per ton, Cheret says. In contrast, the cost of collecting, sorting and shipping used batteries to a recycler exceeds the scrap value, so batteries tend to be thrown away. Unfortunately, the market does not factor in the social cost of disposal, nor does it factor in the fact that recycling metals such as cobalt has a much lower economic and environmental cost than mining raw materials. So we throw them away by the millions.

To be fair, Professor Thomas Maschmeyer also introduced zinc bromide battery technology to the show, and it sounds impressive, with very fast charging times, which by the way is irrelevant to home battery charging. Amusingly, our veterinarian presenter had never heard of gel cells and looked mightily impressed with that too.  It’s easy to be impressed with technology you’re not familiar with, or don’t understand I guess….. and a timeline of 10 or 20 years was mentioned, as if we actually have 10 or 20 years to solve our climate and energy predicaments.

As was to be expected, the main theme of the show was all about how much money could be made from this, not how it was going to save us from climate change or anything else important.  I could not stop laughing when, poised over a computer monitor, Josh Byrne of Gardening Australia fame makes five cents from exporting battery power to his electricity supplier…… what a waste of batteries. How anyone can think that shortening the life of one’s battery bank for five cents is worthwhile truly staggers me. Especially when the service provider then sells it to his neighbours for four times that much!

To his credit, I hasten to add, Josh Byrne has built a 10 star energy efficient house which, powered by just 3kW (when just about everyone these days installs five…) appears to be managing almost as well as we used to in Queensland. I think a program devoted to this aspect of his energy management would be far more useful than the one being discussed at the moment…

Josh House 3D render

Josh’s house project

There was, as usual, much talk about how we could go fossil fuel free, without any acknowledgement whatsoever that all the stuff that goes into these magic boxes of tricks have to be mined, refined, shipped, manufactured, and installed, using….. fossil fuels of course!!  Nor was there any mention of where the money to make all this stuff would come from.

Fascinatingly, the ‘big three’ electricity suppliers in Australia are getting in on the act. Why they would do this when they are constantly expressing their anti renewables positions is puzzling.  Could it be more ‘we’re greener than thou’?

I remain totally baffled by this race to the bottom.


I have just been pointed to this paper written by Peter J. DeMar, Battery Research and Testing, Inc. Oswego, NY, USA

They actually managed to revive 85+ year old NiFe batteries to close to their original capacity, even though most of them had been abused beyond belief….. they’re going to keep them going for another fifteen years, just to show if Edison’s original claim that they would last 100 years isn’t mere marketing…..

They concluded…….:

This find of these old Thomas Edison Nickel-Iron cells has been quite an education for us at Battery Research and Testing, as our work for the past 29 years has been primarily with lead acid and some Nickel-Cadmium, but with nothing of the age of these cells. In fact the oldest lead acid cells that we have load tested and that were still functional were old Exide Manchex strings that were 42 years old, and it appears that the only existing lead acid cells that might be able to be functional at 40 years of age are the Bell developed round cells for Telecom applications.

What we have learned has opened up our minds to explore possibilities for this design long life design cell. It would sure seem that any site that has a requirement for a long life battery that will tolerate abusive conditions would consider the total life costs of these type cells and see which works out to be the most cost effective.




20 responses

3 02 2016

I agree. Catalyst is all WOW!, and no critical analysis.

In North Queensland we have a single supplier, Ergon, whose prices are set by the Queensland Government. I pay 22.2 cents/KWh 7am – 10pm, and 12.4 cents/KWh overnight, plus a huge service fee, plus metering charges.

So on my usage of 6.1 KWh/day for 90 days, I paid $112.45 for the electricity, and $112.29 in fees, which works out to 40.9 cents/KWh. If I tried to cut down even more, (24 hour hot water would be the first thing to go), the electricity would cost even more per unit.

My latest project has been to buy an OrangePi PC microcomputer to act as a web server for – power consumption 1.5 W @ 5V. And a 105 Ah @ 12V deep cycle battery. The ADSL-modem/router runs directly off the battery, and a converter to 5V and 19.3V runs the OrangePi and the Toshiba laptop. This allows me to stay on-line when the mains goes off, which it does frequently in the wet season.

To finish it off, it needs a solar panel and regulator to keep the battery charged, currently it’s done off the mains with a battery charger. But the house is oriented NE-SW, and the forest cuts down the direct sunlight a lot, and it is very often cloudy in summer, so sizing the panel is tricky.

4 02 2016

DC electrickery for the win! 🙂

I also use a lot of DC appliances that would normally depend on a wall wart for juice, but instead run them with simple DC-DC converters striaght off the 24v batteries/charge controller.

My inverters have pretty eay lives.

3 02 2016
Chris Harries

I too watched Catalyst and my first thought was “how can the ABC justify giving a million dollars worth of free publicity to Elon Musk’s and his Powerwall batteries?” Also, this is supposed to be a science program, for goodness sake.

Anyway, though I cringed at the wildly ebullient, ‘don’t-worry-the-future-is-all-fixed’ message sales pitch, the ABC know that this is a populist narrative that the public dearly wants to hear. There’s a place for these nifty technologies, but overdoing the hard sell undersells the scale of the human predicament and simply breeds complacency.

3 02 2016
Danny Neal

To the non expert the ABC Catalyst program seemed plausible. I am intrigued why you have ordered Nickel Iron batteries from Russia? Can you explain your decision and are they superior to lithium-ion ?
Danny Neal

4 02 2016

Nickel Iron batteries are only manufactured in the US, Russia, Ukraine, and China… there are just two suppliers of NiFe batteries in Australia, one sells Chinese batteries, and the other Russian. After my experience with things Chinese, including batteries, I would stay well away from them.

My biggest gripe with Li ion batteries is that they don’t last even as well as lead acid. And so far, no one even recycles them.

NiFe batteries on the other hand, if treated properly have the potential to last indefinitely. There exist batteries over 100 years old that still work! When they start losing capacity, just pour out the electrolyte (Potassium Hydroxide) and replace with new, and presto, you have a new battery…….

4 02 2016
Danny Neal

Thanks. I would be interested in your opinion of the zinc-bromide flow battery
I have an interest because I purchased shares in RedFlow (ASX:RFX)

In 2014 their tests “achieved an important milestone with over 10,000 kilowatt hours processed through a single zinc-bromide flow battery during long-term testing.

Adding to the interest, this test battery continues to perform with no signs of degradation and accordingly it is not yet possible to predict total capacity nor battery life of this generation ZBM.

These results have been achieved from a reference ZBM, now being manufactured by Flextronics, using accelerated bench testing and charging and discharging daily at 100% over several months.”

4 02 2016

I know nothing about them, apart from what you just posted….. they sound a lot better than Li ion!

19 02 2016

Mikestasse – could you please post the link or contact details for the NiFe supplier in Aus that sells the Russian batteries? I’m having trouble finding suppliers of these online, and having trouble getting my head around all the technical stuff to figure out exactly how much storage I’ll need.

19 02 2016

Try here and tell Dave I sent you!

19 02 2016

Thank you : )

3 02 2016

Just watched the show on catchup. There was no comment from anyone about the payback time/warranty period of the Tesla. Has it been edited out since the show went to air?

4 02 2016

How odd…… it is easy to miss perhaps, as it lasts just a few seconds….. it’s near the start of the program.

4 02 2016

Watched the first 10 min again. Nothing.

9 02 2016

Hi Mike,

I distinctly remember seeing one of the people interviewed saying that the payback time was twenty years. I have watched, several times, a recording of the original broadcast and there is nothing about the pay back time in the recording (I record all my TV and watch at a more convenient time, and so that I can FF the BS). I think what I remember may have been in one of the interminable show promos that the ABC run.

10 02 2016

Ah yes……… you may well be right, but I am 100% certain I saw the comment about the payback versus warranty.

4 02 2016

Mike, I’d appreciate it if you could share more details and/or a link RE your Russian NiFe batteries.

I am aware of Iron Eddison and one other mob in the US, plus Changhon in China (what I intended on ordering one day). But I can’t find squat regarding Russian made ones on the google machine… 8-P

5 02 2016
7 02 2016

Cool, ta!

I (for whatever reason) had it in my head that Iron Core sold Changhong… maybe they switched to the RU supplier? His old 48v bank looks different to the new cell pictured on the “Why buy” page… they’ve even got their own logo on them now.

I’ll be very interested to hear how you go with them.

8 02 2016

Hi Mike,

Here’s an interesting paper that highlights why ‘shows’ like Catalyst exist.

Ozzie has also written a great article on electric cars….


8 02 2016

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