Battery technology has advanced rapidly. But battery case technology has been left behind. The cost of recycling batteries and giving them second, third and even fourth lives is horrendously prohibitive thanks to battery cases that are expensive and dangerous to dismantle.
That is the problem Vaulta is solving.
Vaulta’s superior and sustainable battery case technology helps to make stationary batteries affordable, scalable and effective. No welds, less waste.
Stationary batteries will be crucial to the widespread adoption of renewable energy generation, as they allow energy to be stored during times of low demand and dispatched at times of peak demand. Until now, the environmental benefits of battery storage have been undermined by battery wastage. At present, lithium battery recycling is near non-existent, but Vaulta’s no-weld design preserves the structural integrity of battery cells so they can be reused, recycled and reconfigured as needed.
It means Vaulta’s battery case can be taken apart and reused rather than dumped – a start on preventing some of the 98% of disused batteries that go into landfill. And that number is rising rapidly.
Vaulta lead engineer Jerome Douven says the current battery case solutions are among the biggest contributor to the problem.
“When batteries are assembled in a pack, particularly with cylindrical cells, they’re welded, glued and screwed together to form part of the electrical connection,” he says.
“What that means is there’s no design for disassembly, because to disassemble that pack you need to physically break the welds. That actually does permanent deformation to the battery cells themselves. It also means it’s really difficult and really expensive to pull it apart. It’s just not economically viable to recycle them, and they just end up in landfill.”
Vaulta solves that problem through a no-weld design, and a proprietary material that makes the case cooler, lighter and stronger.
“With Vaulta, because there’s no welding of the battery at the terminals, it means that when the battery has finished its first life in its first application, the battery can be disassembled, the cells can come out of the battery case, and they can go onto a secondary application that demands less power,” he says.
“The Vaulta case can then be re-used with newer batteries in the same application. Or in that time – let’s say it’s 10 years or however long the battery has lasted – Panasonic or Samsung has developed this newer, better and faster battery using whatever chemistry. That battery can now go straight into the case that it was designed for. That’s different, because normally that would require a full redesign. It’s just not done like that in the industry.”
Assembly and build
Vaulta has a scaleable, configurable and flexible design, meaning reduced development time and costs.
Vaulta founder Dominic Spooner says Vaulta’s battery case technology, despite its vast difference to traditional solutions, still had to fit among the pack.
This was vital to ensure engineers and users were confident that Vaulta would be flexible enough to fit their use case.
“We use known rack unit specifications to make that completely palatable for anyone who’s in the battery industry,” he says. “It means we can get some of the intricacies of the design out of the way and that we can make a battery the way you want it to be.
“We keep it standard with the stationary rack unit battery, or it can be any shape you like. The main factor that we’re taking out of this is that it’s about the design. We were able to assemble the battery module in an office without any power tools. And a lot of companies think that’s too hard.”
Spooner points to that ease of assembly and maintenance as a key differentiator, because it means teams in remote settings can quickly and easily swap out batteries and do maintenance without an array of tools or access to manufacturers for spare parts. It also makes cell balancing an easy prospect.
“We’re currently using off-the-shelf polymers for the casing, and a mixture of prototype 3D printed parts. The production version will use thermally conductive plastic, which we’ve developed, and that will take heat directly away from the cell terminals, which is really important for the life cycle of the batteries.
“It turns the battery housing itself into a heat sink, which evenly spreads the heat of a battery, meaning that the actual lifetime of the battery is going to be longer. That means you have less battery waste, overall.”
Spooner says that to disassemble and reassemble the current prototype unit would take about 20 minutes.
“We’ve hooked it up with a Prohelion battery management system, which is monitoring each individual cell voltage and capacity at any given time. Basically, live data. And that’s really critical for use in commercial applications, when you have to pass a particular standard, which is 62619, a particular IECC standard,” he says.
Vaulta will pass that standard when officially tested in late 2021.
Vaulta’s scalable battery cases work for all cell types and storage needs, from small-scale batteries to large-scale power generators. And with fewer parts to manufacture, assemble, test and ship, Vaulta slashes development time and costs for stationary battery manufacturers.
Spooner says it makes perfect sense for stationary battery deployment, be it residential or commercial use.
“There are a lot of household items that don’t have a huge power draw that a battery could potentially power for quite some time. Things like TVs, computers – they’re not super energy hungry appliances, but they’re the ones we use quite a lot. And, arguably, the ones that frustrate us the most when they turn off. So for a residential application, it makes a lot of sense,” he says.
“But even just in our small sample size of using it at the office, it just means you have a reliable power supply, even if there’s a storm. You’re not going to lose your connection, you’re not going to lose work. And in a commercial sense, stationary batteries are essential for the change-over to renewables. In this country, and in the world.”
- Battery capacity: 1.362kWh (1.35kWh)
- Voltage: 51.2 volts DC
- Chemistry: LiFE PO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate)
- Inverter used: Victron Energy Phoenix Inverter 48/1200 230V VE.Direct IEC PIN482120100
- BMS used: Prohelion
- Loads (watts):
- TV: 75
- Bar fridge: 350
- Neon sign: 25
- 3D printer: 150
- Run time (hours) capacity based on those loads
- TV: 17.33
- Bar fridge: 20
- Neon sign: 108.33
- 3D printer: 13
- Number of cells used and potential landfill avoided: 112 cells, or 9.8kg
- Overall weight of the battery module without the outer steel racking: 12.4 Kgs
Spooner says the company doesn’t intend to produce battery casings at a commercial scale as yet. Rather the aim is to license the technology and to work with manufacturers in Australia and overseas. But he says the ability to reduce the weight of batteries could unlock a second tranche of innovation.
“We will look to manufacture some of these ourselves and we can design them for customers. But ultimately we want people designing batteries for themselves, for their own applications,” he says. “It opens it up for more flexibility and more creativity, and ultimately more of an uptake at a quicker rate.”
He says government has a huge role to play in rolling out renewables and minimising the landfill problem the world is about to face thanks to inferior battery case technology.
“What we’re really saying to government is that there’s an ability to do this here. But for many reasons, and a lot of them are just in the too-hard basket, it’s just not happening here. And that’s not a sustainable way to roll out renewables,” he says.
“We’re going to have a real problem with the longer-term aspects of how the industry works. People are just going to become frustrated, just like they are with the coal industry.
“But we have the opportunity to get this right before the problem hits hard. We can solve this right now. And Vaulta is doing that.”
Extra info: Vaulta’s industry deals so far
- Vaulta has signed an agreement with Braille Battery – an American manufacturer of ultra-lightweight batteries for Nascar, IndyCar and the Australian Supercars.
- Vaulta will pair its ground-breaking cell casing technology with three Canadian companies focused on battery energy solutions and the development of creative applications for graphene. Vaulta (Battery Graphene Corp Pty Ltd) will work with Braille Energy Systems Inc. (BESI), Focus Graphite Inc. and Grafoid Inc. to conduct market analysis to identify new sectors of interest and co-developed projects. Vaulta’s battery casings will be tested in the world’s fastest drag racers as a proof of concept to gauge how final products can be used in the real world.
- In June 2021 Vaulta received a $297,500 Australian Government grant to commercialise its technology.
- Vaulta is working with Quickstep, the nation’s largest independent aerospace advanced composites manufacturer, to develop smarter technology for renewables, manned and unmanned drones and electric flight. The two companies will be actively working together on a joint proposal for Australian Defence.