The council for scientific and industrial research (CSIR) and its Belgian counterpart signed a groundbreaking collaboration to strengthen the country’s capability to transition to renewable energy. The pact was signed as part of the recent visit by the king of Belgium to South Africa at the invitation of President Cyril Ramaphosa where the two also signed several bilateral agreements.
Energy storage testbed
The king, together with the director-general of the department of science and innovation, Dr. Phil Mjwara, Dr Thulani Dlamini, CSIR’s chief executive officer and other officials, visited a new energy storage testbed known as the CSIR Indoor Energy Storage Testbed (CIEST), based at the CSIR campus in Pretoria. The new indoor energy storage testbed facility is scheduled to go online next month.
It is anticipated that this new infrastructure and related expertise will strengthen the country’s ability to store renewable energy as well as support local players in the battery value chain. The collaboration is part of the existing partnership between the CSIR and VITO, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research. The focus of the partnership will also include energy storage technology innovation and localisation.
World Bank’s energy storage partnership
The CIEST was established within the framework of the World Bank Energy Storage Partnership, which recognises that energy transitions – mainly from fossil fuel to solar and wind power – are accelerating in many countries globally. Key to successful integration of the renewable resources into grids is energy storage. The World Bank’s initiative is aimed at promoting collaborations that will in turn help forge international co-operation on technology and development on energy storage.
Performance-test lithium-ion battery
The CSIR-VITO partnership on energy storage testbed will focus on performance testing of lithium-ion batteries and other associated energy storage technologies for a South African and sub-Saharan market. With this facility, the CSIR will be adequately equipped to test performance and reliability of batteries in terms of their storage capacity lifecycle and depth of discharge.
In addition, this will help build local capacity in the South African battery industry as small medium and micro enterprises. These entities will also access indoor testbed facilities including improving overall market knowledge. Experts say this facility will also help address renewable resources (wind and solar)’s intermittent supply of energy – considered to be one of its major shortcomings so far.
High precision system
The CIEST boasts a high precision system for battery module and pack tests. It has several channels through which it can test many batteries in parallel under different test cycles. Furthermore, it has a new generation temperature chamber to provide data on the operating behaviour of batteries used in harsh climates. For instance, the extreme temperatures in the Northern Cape can affect batteries in mine machinery and vehicles. The testbed will provide valuable data on the batteries running these machines, thus enabling the mine to prolong machine battery life as well as provide a safe operating zone.
Interdisciplinary research for social benefit
Said Dr Dlamini: “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 co-operation between the CSIR and Belgian businesses and research institutions. “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.”
Security of energy supply
CSIR energy storage testbed project leader, Renesh Thakoordeen said: “The testbed is a stepping stone 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.”
Sharing knowledge on sustainable energy storage
Carlo Mol, VITO energy technology project manager, also added words of appreciation for the collaboration. “The CSIR and VITO started their intense co-operation 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 us to make investments in high-tech equipment for testing batteries in South Africa and build local capacity beyond this.
It also gives the CSIR and VITO the opportunity 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 co-operation towards a broad range of sustainable technologies.”