Fonterra COO Fraser Wineray (left) and PolyJoule CEO Eli Paster with a PolyJoule system. Photo / Provided
Fonterra’s first global partnership with an American plastic battery pioneer takes a second step next year when it begins testing the next generation of a sustainable electrical energy storage invention.
New Zealand’s largest company is the
only dairy entity in the world to have entered into a commercial agreement with PolyJoule, a Boston-based MIT spin-off pioneering conductive polymer battery technology to provide durable, ultra-safe, long-lived energy storage and low cost.
PolyJoule batteries use conductive polymer electrodes, an organic-based compound that is not a metal, but can act as one. At the core of a conductive polymer chain, alternating carbon-carbon single and double bonds connect to form a conductive backbone that allows electrons to flow along the polymer chain.
For almost a year Fonterra successfully tested a PolyJoule unit at its dairy farm in Te Rapa, Waikato and has now moved the system to its processing site in Waitoa for more advanced trials.
The larger next-generation battery unit, shipping to New Zealand next year, will replace and upgrade the system that was at the Te Rapa dairy farm.
Fonterra said it will be the first installation of its kind in the world and will increase the farm’s battery from 10 kWh to 125 kWh while occupying the same space – about the size of a large refrigerator. .
PolyJoule chief executive Eli Paster said full operation of the next-generation battery is expected in the first half of next year.
Its experimental uses would vary depending on input from farm staff, the local network and Fonterra’s needs, Paster said.
“We envision running the farm on 100% renewable energy, potential integration with electric vehicle charging, local grid support and having the battery system pay attention to the price of electricity and weather conditions to prepare for resilient operation.”
Meanwhile, at Fonterra’s Waitoa site, the battery previously on the farm will test its uninterruptible power supply and energy arbitration applications. (Energy arbitrage is a technique where electricity is purchased during off-peak hours when grid prices are cheapest. It is then stored and used during peak hours when prices are highest.)
Paster said the length of the trial in Waitoa would depend on how many different use cases were applied to it.
“Typically testing a single-use enclosure requires two to three months of hard data and full-time operation to fully understand its benefits. The system size for the site will be 125 kWh.”
Paster said PolyJoule’s association with Fonterra began in 2018 with a conversation in Boston with the head of Fonterra’s “Disrupt” unit, and progressed as industry concerns grew over the issue. fire of lithium-ion batteries and how to dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way.
However, there was already a strong link between New Zealand, MIT and conductive polymer research, he said.
One of the three chemists awarded the Nobel Prize in 2000 for their work on conductive polymers was the late Alan MacDiarmid, a New Zealander who spent much of his career working in the United States.
Another link is Kiwi Ian Hunter, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, under whom Paster earned his doctorate. Hunter is co-founder of PolyJoule.
Paster said Fonterra sponsored PolyJoule for “a small sum” in return for exclusive rights in the dairy industry space to manufacture, license and distribute PolyJoule batteries.
“As part of this symbolic agreement, they sponsored a first pilot. We are not talking about millions, it was a very small sum.”
He said there was a “huge” global need for energy.
“If we’re going to partner with someone, we’re partnering with leaders. Fonterra’s competency is agriculture and dairy. If I was focusing a technology on a drink, I’d want to talk to Coca-Cola or Pepsi. “
Fonterra declined to discuss the amount of the investment.
Regarding the cost of the PolyJoule system, Paster said his industry refers to a “leveled” cost base.
“Right now, we’re poised to be cost competitive on a discounted 15-year lifespan basis with some of the best in the industry.
“Where we expect to be at the system level in about two to three years is in the window of the cheaper battery systems, which are led by Tesla, and the more expensive systems which are led by a certain number of American integrators. .
“Currently, we are more expensive than these integrators on an initial basis, but roughly competitive over the lifetime.
“We don’t go into cars and we don’t go into mobile phones. We think the need is to decarbonise the network, which pollutes more than transport.”
Paster said it’s possible that parts for PolyJoule storage systems will be made in New Zealand and Australia.