Partnering with PolyJoule, a manufacturer under the umbrella of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the high tech battery is made from electrically conductive polymers, an organic based compound with the ability to act like metal.
Installed on the Te Rapa farm in August 2021, the battery was cycled daily, supporting dairy shed operations, using a variety of inputs and discharge rates, before being recently moved to the co-op’s Waitoa UHT site, which can be impacted by power disturbances leading to downtime and waste.
Fonterra chief operating officer Fraser Whineray says, as a significant electricity user at about 2.5% of the national grid, a sustainable and secure electricity supply is vital to the co-operative’s local sales and exports.
“At Fonterra we have a strategy to lead in sustainability, and innovation partnerships are a critical ingredient to achieving this. The PolyJoule battery has a remarkable discharge rate, which may ultimately link with ultra-fast charging our fleet, including Milk-E, our electric milk tanker,” says Whineray. He went on to note that the battery, the first commercially available in the world, will help will help buffer and stabilise the energy feed into the plant that typically deals with up to 4 million litres of milk daily, noting that even a short-term outage can result in a complete shutdown and a thorough cleaning regime, before the plant can be restarted.
PolyJoule chief executive Eli Paster says he’s excited to partner with Fonterra and sees great opportunity for growth in New Zealand, both in terms of supporting energy security and job creation in the manufacturing and technology sectors.
Paster explained that PolyJoule’s journey started as a search for a better battery, given the belief that storage of electricity was the future. With cost being the king, conductive polymer batteries were cheaper to produce than lithiumion examples, which also had issues with environmental impact given the amount of soil needed to be moved to “harvest” small amounts of lithium and the fact that the resource was also concentrated in only three countries. “Lithium is likely to be the new oil problem going forwards,” he says.
“Conductive polymer batteries are lower cost, have up to three times the life of lithium-ion, alongside offering a greater number of cycles, and need less maintenance.
From a sustainability perspective they don’t need to be made in sterile manufacturing environments, where HVAC power consumption during manufacture can be up to 40% of the cost of a lithium-ion battery.
“Since PolyJoule batteries do not rely on lithium, nickel, or lead, the materials are easier to source and the batteries are safer and easier to manufacture anywhere in the world, including New Zealand.”
Whineray commented that PolyJoule was a great fit to the co-operatives existing moves to sustainability and decarbonisation, which at the Waitoa site included a biomass boiler and the recently announced Milk-E tanker. He also noted that of the company’s 30 operating sites, currently nine were coal-fired, dropping to six in the New Year.
“Currently we output around 800,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum – around 20% of that of Air New Zealand – so although we are in the early days, this new battery technology will help us lead the way in sustainability and be open and creative in an area that is likely to be a global solution in energy management.”