WA battery research facility secures $25m of federal funding

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The federal government has backed Western Australia’s battery manufacturing ambitions with a $25 million grant to establish the FBICRC at Curtin University in Perth. The $135 million, industry-led cooperative research centre will bring together 58 stakeholders from industry, government and the research community.

The facility will expand the production of battery materials, while also supporting battery deployment and developing opportunities for specialist battery production. In addition, it will optimise the circular economy for the use and reuse of battery systems, to deliver an estimated $2.5 billion benefit to the Australian economy over the next 15 years, according to the FBICRC website.

“The Future Battery Industries CRC will investigate opportunities for greater efficiencies in the extraction and refinement of battery minerals, including facilitating the steps beyond mining and concentrate production to cathode production and the manufacture and testing of battery components and systems,” FBICRC Chair Tim Shanahan said, adding that the consortium will also offer evidence-based advice to help shape government policies, rules and regulations.

In addition to the $25 million grant from the federal government, the FBICRC has also secured $6 million from the Western Australia state government and $22 million from companies and universities, as well as in-kind commitments of $82 million. The state government provided funding as part of the Future Battery Industry Strategy it unveiled in February, following calls from the mining industry for Australia to intensify its focus on its downstream manufacturing capabilities. The document details the state’s vast resources of lithium-ion battery materials such as nickel, cobalt and rare earth minerals. It also outlines plans to attract investment to strengthen relationships with investors and manufacturers across the global battery and EV supply chains.

Commenting on the funding announcement, Western Australia Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston said that the new research centre would provide substantial economic benefits for the state, while helping to create new jobs in areas such as the growing battery and mining sectors.

“Western Australia was the obvious choice to host the FBICRC, as we have all the minerals you need to make batteries and energy technologies, including nickel, lithium and cobalt,” Johnston said.

The FBICRC funding announcement follows the launch of the federal government’s strategy-seeking investment to unlock Australia’s potential in lithium-ion battery production. To attract investments, the government has vowed to offer yearly tax offsets of up to $200,000 for investors, in addition to a 10-year capital gains exemption for investments that are held for at least one year.

Australia is the world’s biggest supplier of lithium and the government forecasts the value of exports to rise to $1.5 billion by 2024. In 2017, the country produced 18,700 tons of lithium to claim a 43.5% share of the global market. It surpassed Chile, which produced 14,100 tons for a 32.8% share of global supply.

However, Australia has thus far captured just 0.53% of the ultimate value of its ore exports, according to Austrade’s recent Lithium-Ion Battery Value Chain: New Economy Opportunities for Australia report. The country currently produces nine of the 10 mineral elements required to make most lithium-ion battery anodes and cathodes, and has commercial reserves of graphite, which is the remaining element. In addition, it has secured access to all of the chemicals required for lithium-ion battery production, according to Austrade.

“Given Australia’s abundant resources of battery minerals and world-class resources sector, the potential to promote the nation’s premium-quality, ethically sourced and safe battery minerals and metals through forensic-accredited and traceable sources will also be investigated, paving the way for Australia to position itself as a global leader in the international battery value chain,” Shanahan said.