The newly established CSIR Indoor Energy Storage Testbed was recently graced by His Majesty the King of the Belgians at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). 

The new infrastructure and associated expertise are bent on strengthening South Africa’s ability to support local players in the battery value chain and, in so doing, boosting the country’s capabilities in renewable energy storage. The Battery Testbed is a direct result of a collaboration agreement between the CSIR and the Flemish research entity, Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek (VITO). 

Novel Collaboration Platform for Localisation

The CSIR Indoor Energy Storage Testbed (Video link) has been established within the framework of the World Bank Energy Storage Partnership. The partnership recognises that energy transitions – with increased wind and solar power use – are underway in many countries and that, to integrate renewable resources into grids, energy storage is key. The World Bank Group established a partnership to help foster international cooperation on technology research and development in this field.

This partnership established a path for the CSIR-VITO collaboration on the energy storage testbed to primarily focus on performance testing of lithium-ion batteries, as well as emerging energy storage technologies for a South African and sub-Saharan market.

The facility enables the CSIR to test the performance and reliability of batteries, as per the battery manufacturer’s specifications, including, but not limited to, storage capacity, lifecycle and depth of discharge. Capacity-building in the South African battery sector, access to clients that require lower capacity outputs and indoor testbed facilities are paramount to the facility’s success pathway. VITO and the CSIR will focus on energy storage technology innovation and localisation. Overall, market knowledge will be an added advantage for testbeds forecasting.

The CSIR Battery Testbed is equipped with a high-precision system for battery module and pack tests, with many channels tailored to test numerous batteries in parallel under dissimilar test cycles. A new-generation temperature chamber that provides data on the operating characteristics and properties of batteries that are normally used in harsh climates will impact optimal performance. The harsh temperatures in the Northern Cape, for example, can affect batteries in mine machinery and vehicles. The collated data will enable the mine to extend machine battery life and provide a safe operating zone.

Touching Lives through Innovation

CSIR Chief Executive Officer Dr Thulani Dlamini expressed the organisation’s appreciation for the level of collaboration and scientific support that it has received from the Government of Flanders in Belgium and its research institutions.

“The visit by His Majesty the King of the Belgians to the CSIR demonstrates our mutual dedication to fostering interdisciplinary research for the benefit of society. The visit opens the door to expand the cooperation between the CSIR and Belgian businesses and research institutions.”

Dr Dlamini reinforced the CSIRs payoff line “touching lives through innovation” when he said, “The facility brings hope for sustainable energy and a secure energy future. How we store energy is at the heart of the successful use of renewable resources such as solar and wind. A developing country such as South Africa has to think of technologies that offer long-duration storage, have low operational and maintenance requirements and can withstand harsh climatic conditions.”

CSIR Energy Storage Testbed Project Leader Renesh Thakoordeen says that the facility will play an important role in creating a more resilient energy system.

The facility will provide much-needed testing for the country. It will be used as a service for technology developers or importers who would like to characterise their technologies for market entry.

“The testbed is a steppingstone towards addressing the intermittency challenge of renewable energy. Many businesses and residential homeowners are turning to solar power and batteries to secure their energy supply. But ensuring the quality of such systems is key. The testbed will assist in creating the standards for lithium-ion batteries in South Africa,” he said.

VITO Energy Technology Project Manager Carlo Mol emphasised that the energy storage testbed is the first step towards broader cooperation between CSIR and VITO.

“The CSIR and VITO started their intense cooperation at the end of 2020, thanks to the financial support of the Government of Flanders for the Indoor Energy Storage Testbed. The project funding enabled the parastatal to make investments in high-tech equipment for testing batteries in South Africa, including building local capacity to unprecedented levels. This collaboration enables the CSIR and VITO to share knowledge on sustainable energy storage solutions for the benefit of South African stakeholders. We are looking forward to future collaborations as the CSIR and VITO signed a memorandum of understanding in April 2022 to extend their research and innovation cooperation towards a broad range of sustainable technologies.”

VITO is an independent Flemish research organisation in the area of cleantech and sustainable development. 

For information on how to access the CSIR Energy Storage Testbed, email Renesh Thakoordeen at RThakoordeen@csir.co.za

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