The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) Energy Storage Testbed project came about in the framework of the World Bank’s Energy Storage Partnership, an important programme to promote energy storage in developing countries. It will consist of an outdoor battery testbed focusing on system-level testing/integration and an indoor battery testbed focusing on testing battery modules/packs level. 

The indoor battery testbed is set up through a collaboration between the CSIR and VITO. The Flemish Government supported the indoor battery testbed by funding the project activities, through training and capacity building, and the required testing infrastructure. The indoor battery testbed will move into full operation in May this year to support South African stakeholders across the whole battery value chain, from manufacturers to end users.

“CSIR and VITO embarked on a partnership in December 2020 to establish a testbed in South Africa and aims to provide support and guidance for companies in the local battery value chain,” CSIR energy storage testbed supervisor Renesh Thakoordeen tells Engineering News.

VITO has procured the key equipment for the indoor testbed, which consists of a Chroma battery tester, a Weiss climate chamber, and other testing and measurement equipment.  

The initiative provides well-packaged, bespoke offerings that are currently exploited by international companies set on establishing assembly plants in South Africa. These plants require rigorous battery testing, which is evidenced by the number of early-engagement inquiries from the industry. 

South African industry needs high-quality local testing and certification facilities for lithium-ion batteries. There is no protection afforded to industry and consumers from substandard technologies, both through imports and local assembly lines. 

The CSIR testbed laboratory and personnel contain a value proposition that can develop such standards and support through high-quality battery performance testing and battery knowledge. The testbed facility will include performance and reliability testing; battery calendar life; storage capacity; cycle life; depth of discharge; verification and validation; aged battery services; battery aftermarket services; and postmortem analysis, which forms part of the root cause analysis.

Expected target markets include stationary batteries (from utility-scale to home scale), microgrids, electric mobility (from light to heavy-duty vehicles); the medical industry (pacemakers; hearing aids etc); agriculture; and road works.

The test bed facility will be assisting the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to create a standard for lithium-ion batteries as these batteries do not have a comprehensive set of standards.

The literature in South Africa has covered lead-acid batteries comprehensively, but there is a gap when it comes to lithium-ion batteries. 

Battery standards, longevity, capacity, and discharge are especially crucial in battery aftermarkets. The testing of aftermarket batteries is instrumental in wastage reduction through repurposing and recycling. Used and discarded electric vehicle  (EV) batteries still remain capable of performing under less demanding applications, such as for backup power, grid support functions, or residential storage in tandem with rooftop solar. 

An EV consists of many 18650 batteries — which are lithium-ion cylindrical cells measuring 18 mm x 65 mm — and defective cells are mostly discarded. The testbed will repurpose these defective batteries for electric bicycles; however, more research is required. 

Climate Chamber

The facility’s climate chamber will provide valuable data on the safe operating zone of a battery being used in harsh climates and high temperatures that impact optimal performance. 

The harsh temperatures in the Northern Cape, for example, can affect mine machinery and vehicles. This testbed facility will provide valuable data on the batteries running these machines, enabling the mine to extend its battery life and provide a safe operating zone.

Once the battery reaches its end of life, it can be retested to determine its suitability for other applications, or it can be recycled.

The CSIR sees the testbed facility as a “stepping stone” for the intermittency challenge of renewable energy. With increased levels of load shedding, many businesses and residential homeowners are turning to both solar power and batteries in an attempt to reduce their reliance on the grid. Reducing reliance on grid load and diesel, however, is dependent on the battery adoption rate of consumers.

Large-scale battery energy storage systems can be quickly manufactured and deployed, making batteries a reliable contributing solution to the load-shedding crisis. The batteries need to always be recharged though, and cannot be completely divorced from the grid or a renewable energy source.

Batteries are also useful for energy access in rural areas. Transmission lines in remote areas are costly, so an easier and more economical option could be to establish a solar panel microgrid for rural areas, which would require batteries. 

The testbed facility will be helpful in determining the load profile of these areas, as their being situated in valleys or at higher altitudes will require a different load profile. The testbed will provide invaluable data in solving these needs.

The energy storage testbed is being coordinated across two phases, with Phase 1 focusing on the indoor testbed, while the outdoor testbed is envisioned for Phase 2.

The outdoor testbed aims to test larger, utility-scale batteries and provide a platform for the industry to test new technologies of batteries, such as vanadium redox flow batteries, which seem promising. 

Other output capabilities include inverter testing, fire protection, round-trip efficiencies, and recycling. 

Corporates and SMMEs are encouraged to collaborate with the CSIR and explore their suite of research and development offerings in the battery storage and battery research space. 

Source: advertorial Engineering News & Mining Weekly (24 feb 2023)

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