With the ever-increasing use of cellphones, laptop computers and tablets, energy storage has become critical to ensuring the longevity of these devices.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, this morning launched the Lithium Ion Battery (LIB) Precursor Pilot Plant Facility, a strategic initiative that could give South Africa a competitive edge in the global energy storage sector.

Based in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga the pilot plant is part of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) energy programme that is responding to the fast pace evolution of rechargeable battery technology in the country.

The Manganese Precursor Programme was established to develop precursor materials for local and global LIB producers through beneficiation of South African manganese reserves.  Two high value precursor materials, lithium manganese oxide (LMO) and nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) will be developed. To date, the Department has invested over R30 million to the project.

 

The export of high value precursors to a global market for lithium ion batteries would increase the value of local raw manganese, raw materials and build manganese beneficiation capacity in South Africa.

 

While manganese ore is currently exported at 100 USD per tonne, the Lithium Manganese Oxide precursor is valued at 2000 USD per tonne and once production reaches 10 000 tonnes per year, 200 direct jobs and 1 400 indirect jobs are envisaged with an annual turnover of R310 million. 

 

Lithium ion batteries are used in cellphones, laptops, watches, digital cameras and some medical devices such as pacemakers used in heart surgery patients. These batteries are made of manganese. South Africa is home to 80% of the global high-grade manganese ore. This mineral resource is a huge potential contributor to minerals beneficiation in the country.

 

Addressing the event, attended by academia and industry, the Minister said the objective of the programme was to develop energy storage technologies that meet the requirements of Eskom for on grid storage, renewable energy integration and electric vehicle applications.

 

“We know that one of our biggest challenges going forward in South Africa is providing energy to our homes and industries. We have some of the best conditions for solar energy in the world, and sufficient wind-energy potential to provide us with most of our energy needs,” said the Minister.

 

Minister Pandor also praised leading lithium-ion battery researcher Professor Michael Thackery, who also attended the launch, for his noteworthy contribution to the energy storage sector.

 

Quoting the South African-born, ex-Council for Scientific and Industrial Research scientist, the Minister said: “The challenges to increase the energy capacity of batteries further, and to store the energy in smaller and smaller containers safely, will be difficult, but not insurmountable.“

 

The pilot facility was launched in partnership with the University of Limpopo’s Material’s Modelling centre where post-grad students are doing significant research in the area of energy storage.

“We believe that this project will position ourselves as a world class global supplier of manganese based cathode materials for the international LIB industry,” said university’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof. Mahlo Mokgalong.

Prof Mokgalong added that the project would expand the base of that research and bring more collaborations and partnerships. “Some of the global players are present at this launch and this will accelerate our pace as major players in research on battery materials.”

The university’s Materials Modelling Centre also hosts a South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI), which has conducted research in computational modelling of energy storage materials over many years; and has participated in many research endeavours.

Issued jointly by the University of Limpopo and the Department of Science and Technology.

For media enquires contact:

Mr Lunga Ngqengele (Department of Science and Technology)

082 566 0446

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Or

Mr Johannes Selepe (University of Limpopo)

Tel: +2715 268 3210 / +2782 882 5818

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.