Australian Economy

Australian thermal storage start-up nears production at Newcastle plant

MGA Thermal CEO Erich Kisi and CTO Alex Post (Supplied).

Australian long-duration energy storage hopeful MGA Thermal has unveiled the first stage of a new commercial manufacturing facility in Newcastle, New South Wales, and says it expects to be producing 1MWh a day of its unique stackable thermal storage blocks by the year’s end.

MGA Thermal was spun out of the University of Newcastle in 2019 to commercialise energy storage technology based on novel material called miscibility gap alloy (MGA), honed through research at the university between 2010 and 2018.

The resulting technology comes in 20cm x 20cm x 16cm blocks that comprise a blend of metals – some that melt when heated, and others that don’t; a phenomenon the UoN team has likened to a choc-chip muffin being heated in a microwave.

The stackable blocks store renewable power cheaply and over long periods – between one day and one week, depending how many are stacked together – as thermal energy.

This stored thermal energy can then be used to provide industrial heat, run steam turbines or produce other forms of long-duration energy storage like green hydrogen.

MGA Thermal said this week that the first stage of its manufacturing facility and research and development lab in Newcastle would be capable of manufacturing more than 1,000 blocks, or 1MWh of energy storage, per day by the end of 2022.

The initial run of blocks produced at the factory will be used to kick off a partnership with Toshiba International Corporation and Graphite Energy to produce low-cost green hydrogen – a venture backed by a $9.8 million federal government grant.

But the company believes that this is just the tip of the iceberg of potential demand for its blocks, citing “customer interest” amounting to 20 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy storage, the equivalent of powering 1.3 million homes, for its breakthrough technology.

In particular, MGA Thermal says it has its eye on more than 660 coal-fired power stations still operating globally, which need to be shut down to slash global carbon emissions.

The company says one of the major benefits of its technology is the ability to retrofit coal-fired power stations with non-fossil technology, using the heat from its bricks to power steam turbines, instead of burning coal.

“If current market sentiment and the impacts of climate change are telling us anything, it’s that we can no longer hold off on the renewable energy transition,” said Erich Kisi, co-founder and CEO of MGA Thermal.

“While conventional storage technologies like batteries are no doubt important to that mission, we believe our MGA Thermal Blocks will be a major part of that transition, to retrofit existing thermal power plants and support development of low-cost renewable energy storage and green hydrogen.

“Utilities around the world have told us they need this type of technology to make that move, and we are well on our way to building the capacity to meet that demand.”

A statement from Toshiba said its partnership with MGA aimed to help deliver on a number of “highly valued features” of the future energy market, including long-term energy storage, low-cost hydrogen production and renewable electricity generation.

“The coupling of the MGA thermal storage technology with the Toshiba’s Solid Oxide Electrolysis Hydrogen technology will allow both parties to work with government and industry to develop a joint engineering and manufacturing strategy so that high-value engineering, manufacturing and supply chain jobs are created locally with the value generated exported globally in the future,” Toshiba said.

Last year, MGA Thermal raised $8 million in early investment funds to help commercialise its technology. The funding round was backed by CSIRO founded venture capital fund Main Sequence, with additional investments from Alberts Impact Capital, New Zealand’s Climate Venture Capital Fund, The Melt and other angel investors.

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