LAVO’s energy storage system solution

In late July, a group of visitors, including Anoulack Chanthivong MP, NSW Shadow Minister for Industry & Trade, along with fellow parliamentarians, Kate Washington and Tim Crakanthorp, got a close-up look at an Australian invention that might one day change the way we store and use energy.

Local politicians and media guests at the Tomago site of Varley Group, founded in 1886 and one of Australia’s oldest engineering companies, heard about the vital importance of collaboration in bringing new-to-the-world technologies to market.

Leading to the core invention in LAVO’s energy storage system is a metal hydride alloy, developed by a team at University of NSW led by Professor Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou, who has been named one of Australia’s most innovative engineers.

The hydrides were selected by investors at Providence Climate Capital (PCC) as an important enabler for long-duration and safe storage of green hydrogen. PCC backed LAVO and now a host of Australian companies are pushing the invention to market via storage systems ranging from household to utility-scale.

“Here we are in the home of coal country, in the Hunter region, developing new ways to store hydrogen,” said Michael Sharpe, AMGC’s National Director Industry.

“They’re developing new projects for lithium-ion batteries at Energy Renaissance, just down the road. So, we’re seeing new, high-skilled jobs coming through, and we’re creating export opportunities.”

LAVO’s solution involves hydrides, which the team sometimes calls “solar sponge” or “metal sand”, stored in metal canisters. These can soak up hydrogen in high density with a water purifier, a water splitter, lithium-ion battery for rapid response for power demand. Plus, it includes built-in artificial intelligence and monitoring to enable the asset owner to make the smartest use of the unit.

“Ampcontrol has played a role in co-development with Varley alongside a few other partners. They’ve been working on the electrical, electronics, and programming side,” explained Darren Jones, LAVO’s, technical officer.

“Varley has been heavily involved in the crossover helping us build the unit – so putting all the circuits together with water, hydrogen, air, and the actual construction.”

Other participants in the unit’s commercialisation include Hunter region manufacturer, metal fabricator R&R Murphy, and gas detector specialist Austech.

AMGC has co-invested $221,875 in the LAVO-led collaborative project, featuring UNSW, Design + Industry, Providence, GHD, Varley, and Greater Springfield.

According to LAVO, it has received pre-orders worth $65 million for their 40-kilowatt hour home storage system, which is selling for about $30,000. It has a lifespan of approximately 30 years and integrates with rooftop solar PV.

“We have over a billion dollars of orders sitting here,” said LAVO’s Chairman Henry Sun of the utility-scale systems, which feature larger, modular cells, and are based on the footprint of a 40-foot shipping container.

(A separate project led by Nedstack to prototype and develop Australia’s first utility-scale hydrogen PEM fuel cell has been awarded $825,000 through the AMGC Commercialisation Fund. It features LAVO, among other participants.)

LAVO says it suffers obstacles in supply chains, but the main issue is currently regulatory approval, given the safety demands and multi-faceted nature of the units. Each state has different laws, so there is one demonstration unit installed in South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, and Victoria to help regulatory bodies in each state access and assess each unit.

“In the absence of a national standard we can certify against, we have to do a much slower safety case approach, with GHD our engineering partners to get the electrical certification, a safety case done, local approval, site approval, and WaterMark” said Lavo’s COO,  Jacques Markgraaf.