Innovator award winner making battery manufacturing better for the environment

At Energy Renaissance, we are proud to sponsor and support the winners of the Australian Battery SocietyEnergy Renaissance Innovator Award. We are thrilled to introduce you to another of our award recipients, Rory McCallum. Rory is a PhD student at Swinburne University and the CSIRO.  He is working on  the development of elevated temperature electrolytes for sustainable lithium-ion batteries. The award will fund the completion of his training to become fully accredited in Grid-connect Battery Storage Design and Installation.

Lets have 5 minutes with Rory!

Tell us about your research and what inspired you to work on this topic?

I spent the first 12 years of my working life as an electrician with a focus on energy efficiency. Whilst it was enjoyable to see the impact I could have in a tangible way, I felt I could offer more by pursuing my love of science. During my undergraduate I had the opportunity to work with CSIRO on a battery research project and this was my leg in the door. I completed my degree and obtained a first-class honours working on ionic liquid electrolyte. From working with ionic liquids I could see that elevated temperatures can widen the range of materials that could be used and reduce the dangers of thermal runaway. I also understood from my electrical background that heating a system is much easier than cooling it which is required with current electrolytes. A major drawback that has hindered their take up is a perception that they are too expensive. After being awarded a scholarship to complete a PhD, I decided to look for new solvents that would work at elevated temperatures but with reduced cost. The other major consideration was their sustainably and toxicity. I really wanted to produce a system that was able to improve performance while reducing the impact on the environment.

What is the most exciting thing you are doing as part of your studies?

Being a nerd, the most exciting thing for me is to come up with an idea and see what the data reveals. To me, science is a fault-finding process where you are wrong most of the time but occasionally you nail it. It takes a lot of thought and persistence to solve these problems and when you do finally make progress, it’s very rewarding. Working on something completely novel that has a practical benefit to society by way of contributing to a sustainable future is really motivating. Being able to work in the large CSIRO team has also been inspiring. A PhD can be a long, lonely path and you really need the support of the team to get you though, especially over the past couple of years.

How has the Energy Renaissance Innovator Award funding helped you?

The Energy Renaissance Innovator Award will give me the opportunity to complete training to become a fully accredited in Grid-connect Battery Storage Design and Installation. This training will not only provide me with the practical skills to install a grid connect battery system but also provide an understanding of the technical considerations and jargon used in the industry. It would allow me to be able to better communicate with technical staff and industry partners. I also hope this will give me the knowledge to better inform people in research of the practical considerations of battery energy storage that may guide future discoveries. This award would benefit me and the wider battery industry by forming cross industry engagement through building networks between industry and research. I would use the course to widen my networks and those around me with the hope of forming an integrated battery industry where discoveries are informed by end-users’ needs. It would also give me accreditation for the clean energy council (CEC) where I would like to engage in the wider debate around the solutions to the decarbonisation of the economy.

What impact do you think your studies will have on energy storage in the future, especially for the commercialisation of your energy storage technology in Australia?

In the short-term, my research will lead to the development of more sustainable electrolyte systems that decrease the impact of battery manufacturing on the environment. Because I have developed my solvent system around a warmer climate, this would be perfect for use and manufacture within Australia. My work also includes materials that are readily available within Australia which could put Australian manufactures at a competitive advantage. In the long-term, development of high temperature electrolytes will lead to a shift to cutting-edge electrodes with higher densities and I really think Australia could look to develop some of these cutting-edge technologies. We are a small, rich country and need to look for R&D niches like the Scandinavia countries have. We have a large mining industry which will require lots of energy storage if it is to decarbonise. These mines are generally located in hot climates and I see a high temperature reliable battery system playing a key role in that transition. It would be great if we could have an Australian-built battery using Australia materials used in the Australian climate.