Belgium-South Africa collaboration helps pave the way for the renewable energy transition.

Pretoria – 23.03.2023, His Majesty the King of the Belgians and South Africa’s Director-General of the Department of Science and Innovation, Dr Phil Mjwara visited a new indoor energy storage testbed at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) that will become fully operational in May this year. The new infrastructure and associated expertise will strengthen South Africa’s ability to support local players in the battery value chain, thereby boosting the country’s capabilities in renewable energy storage. The collaboration falls within the ambit of a collaboration agreement between the CSIR and VITO, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research.

His Majesty the King of the Belgians is in South Africa at the invitation of His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa. His Majesty the King is accompanied by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs, Foreign Trade and the Federal Cultural institutions of Belgium, as well as the Minister of Finance of the Government of Flanders and other representatives of the Belgian regions and communities.

The CSIR Indoor Energy Storage Testbed has been established within the framework of the World Bank Energy Storage Partnership. The partnership recognises that energy transitions – with increased wind and solar power use – are underway in many countries, and that to integrate renewable resources into grids, energy storage is key. The World Bank Group therefore established a partnership to help foster international cooperation on technology research and development in this field.

This in turn opened the way for the CSIR-VITO collaboration on an energy storage testbed to primarily performance-test lithium-ion batteries and emerging energy storage technologies for a South African and sub-Saharan market.

The facility equips the CSIR to test the performance and reliability of batteries, as expressed by their storage capacity, lifecycle and depth of discharge. It will help build capacity in the South African battery industry, as lower-capacity clients will have access to indoor testbed facilities and overall market knowledge can be improved. VITO and the CSIR will focus on energy storage technology innovation and localisation.

The facility is equipped with a high-precision system for battery module and pack tests. It has many channels to test numerous batteries in parallel under dissimilar test cycles. It also has a new-generation temperature chamber to provide data on the operating behaviour of batteries used in harsh climates – which will impact optimal performance. The harsh temperatures in the Northern Cape, for example, can affect batteries in mine machinery and vehicles. The testbed will provide valuable data on the batteries running these machines, enabling the mine to extend machine battery life and provide a safe operating zone.

CSIR Chief Executive Officer Dr Thulani Dlamini expressed the organisation's appreciation for the level of collaboration and scientific support it has received from the Government of Flanders in Belgium and its research institutions.

“The visit by His Majesty the King of the Belgians to the CSIR demonstrates our mutual dedication to fostering interdisciplinary research for the benefit of society. The visit opens the door to expand the cooperation between the CSIR and Belgian businesses and research institutions.

“The facility brings hope for sustainable energy and a secure energy future. How we store energy is at the heart of the successful use of renewable resources such as solar and wind. A developing country such as South Africa has to think of technologies that offer long-duration storage, have low operational and maintenance requirements and can withstand harsh climatic conditions,” says Dlamini. 

CSIR Energy Storage Testbed Project Leader Renesh Thakoordeen says that the facility will play an important role in creating a more resilient energy system. The facility will provide much-needed testing for the country. It will be used as a service for technology developers or importers who would like to characterise their technologies for market entry.

“The testbed is a stepping stone towards addressing the intermittency challenge of renewable energy. Many businesses and residential homeowners are turning to solar power and batteries to secure their energy supply. But ensuring the quality of such systems is key. The testbed will assist in creating the standards for lithium-ion batteries in South Africa,” he says.

VITO Energy Technology Project Manager Carlo Mol says that the energy storage testbed is the first step towards a broader cooperation between CSIR and VITO.

“The CSIR and VITO started their intense cooperation at the end of 2020, thanks to the financial support of the Government of Flanders for the indoor energy storage testbed. The project funding enabled us to make investments in high-tech equipment for testing batteries in South Africa and build local capacity beyond this. It also gives the CSIR and VITO the opportunity to share knowledge on sustainable energy storage solutions for the benefit of South African stakeholders. We are looking forward to future collaborations as the CSIR and VITO signed a memorandum of understanding in April 2022 to extend their research and innovation cooperation towards a broad range of sustainable technologies.” 

Project Manager