Scion leads charge for efficient batteries

By David Porter

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Scion's Kirk Torr (left) with Steve Sopora. Photo / Supplied
Scion's Kirk Torr (left) with Steve Sopora. Photo / Supplied

A nanofibre material with potentially high value in the global battery market developed by Rotorua-based forest research institute Scion has received an initial grant from Bay of Plenty technology incubator WNTVentures to test its commercial viability.

The Scion researchers came up with a process to convert lignin, a waste product of the pulp industry, into a carbon nanofibre material that can be used in batteries and other electronic applications.

Scion spokesman Steve Sopora said: "By incorporating carbon as a nano material as part of the anode which is one of the electrodes, you actually decrease charging time and can also increase the storage capacity of the battery."

While there were other technologies that offered similar performance improvements, such as carbon nanotubes, graphene and polyacrylonitrile-derived carbon nanofibres, they were much more expensive than the lignin-based carbon polymer, and were also not available on a commercial scale.

Scion is working with Auckland company Revolution Fibres, which will produce raw material for the anodes, with the aim of tapping into the global battery manufacturing market. Mr Sopora said the New Zealand company was a world leader in the electro-spinning technology required to create the nanofibre mats used to make the anodes.

"We have developed the material and the manufacturing process on a lab scale and they have taken that process and duplicated it on a commercial scale."

Kirk Torr, the research scientist leading the project team, said the material had shown good potential to improve the performance of batteries and supercapacitors.

"Markets for carbon electrodes are showing a lot of growth at the moment, driven by the rise in demand for sustainable technologies," he said.

"We really believe our technology can offer comparable or even better performance at a considerable cost advantage."

Chief executive Carl Jones said WNTVentures had initially provided a pre-incubation Callaghan Innovation grant of $35,000 as part of its two-stage process for developing companies to the point where they could attract angel or venture stage investment.

WNT has engaged two experts in Taiwan to provide a global overview of market access points for the nanofibre technology. They would then feed that information to a New Zealand expert who would assess what a potential company would require in terms of human and capital requirements to take it to a commercial stage.

Then WNT would sit down with Scion and Revolution Fibres and decide whether to go to the next stage, in which the new company would receive a total of $450,000 from Callaghan, including the initial $35,000, plus $150,000 from the incubator.

WNTVentures

* One of three new government backed hi-tech business incubators.

* Can access repayable Callaghan Innovation grants of up to $450,000 over two years to eligible companies, matched 1:3 with the incubator contributing up to $150,000

- Bay of Plenty Times

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