Department of Science and Technology

Wednesday, 11 October 2017


University of Limpopo, Nelspruit, Mpumulanga


Energy storage is rapidly becoming a major focus area globally. I’m sure you all know that Elon Musk has just promised build the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery (100 megawatt) in South Australia - if he fails to build it in 100 days he’ll have to provide it for free. He’s half way there.


South African-born, ex-Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) scientist, and leading lithium-ion battery researcher, Michael Thackeray, said recently: “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 CSIR was the driving force behind the development of the world’s lithium batteries - used in laptops, cell phones and leading electric cars.


However, John Goodenough, an American, is widely credited with the lithium-ion battery’s partial discovery, but he acknowledges some assistance from the work of a group of researchers, of whom Michael Thackeray, was one, based at the CSIR. In the mid-1980s this group of researchers developed lithium-metal-oxide electrode materials with a spinel-type structure.


This development led to the discovery of what we know today as lithium ion (or li-ion) batteries.


Japanese company Sony commercialised the first li-ion batteries for consumer electronics in 1991 and, because of its low energy-to-weight ratio and slow loss of charge when not in use, li-ion batteries revolutionised the battery market.


Former CSIR CEO Sibusiso Sibisi boldly stated the following, “Arguably, one of the biggest impacts CSIR research has had on an industry is in the development of the lithium-ion battery, which has literally changed the world. All major manufacturers have been licensees of CSIR intellectual property.”


Energy storage is the key to unlocking renewable energy and increasing its contribution to the energy mix.  


Recent technological advances show that the constraint to renewable energy technology deployment is no longer energy production but energy storage.


Since 2011 the DST has been supporting the Lithium Ion Battery Programme programme aimed at local production of the batteries at highly competitive cost based on South African raw materials and intellectual property. The DST is busy finalising the broader energy storage roadmap, which will address both on and off grid applications and other battery technologies that use South African raw materials. The objective is to develop energy storage technologies that meet the requirements of Eskom for on grid storage, renewable energy integration and electric vehicle applications.


The R50 million Lithium Ion Battery Programme is being implemented through universities and the CSIR. 


And that’s why we are here.


It gives me great pleasure to launch a precursor-battery-pilot plant here at the University of Limpopo.


We know that one of our biggest challenges going forward in South Africa is providing energy to our homes and industries.


We know that we have an abundance of renewable energy potential in our country. 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.


The DST has established research programmes based at various universities, focusing on solar and wind energy as well as on biofuels, so that we can use locally developed technologies to harness these resources.


The DST's contribution to this energy drive is seven Department of Science and Technology/ National Research Foundation chairs in energy or energy-related research, spread across five higher education institutions; three DST Centres of Competence; and at least seven other centres, clusters or units with an energy research focus spread across the science system.


In addition, Eskom has established a Power Plant Engineering Institute and supports eight chairs at universities.


The 2013 Integrated Resource Plan focuses on renewable energy, with allocations for additional photovoltaic, wind and concentrated solar power capacity; a delay in the nuclear decision until after 2025 or even 2035, by exploring alternative options, such as regional hydro and further exploration of the shale gas potential; and an allocation for a new set of fluidised-bed combustion coal generation.


The National Development Plan has a similar focus, identifying innovation and technology for cleaner coal use as key drivers for achieving a greener energy dispensation by 2030. We spend close to R1 billion on energy R&D each year, amounting to over 4% of the gross expenditure on research and development.


Sustainable development is a core organising idea in the National Development Plan.


The Plan is an integrated approach to policy making, combining theory, evidence and practice with an aim of ensuring pragmatism and continuous learning in implementation and governance.


It advocates a radical transformation in the economy within the context of a mixed economy.


It calls for a strong and effective state that is able to intervene on behalf of the poor and marginalised in order to correct the historic imbalances of power and the accumulation of wealth.


It proposes a dialogue between business, labour and government as a means towards ensuring investment, employment and growth.


Let me repeat - the National Development Plan endorses the need to move to a low-carbon economy, while acknowledging that this transition will require innovative solutions.


The DST has science, technology and innovation in the field of climate change as one of its Grand Challenges. It is important for all of us to understand the causes and impact of climate change, so that we can be empowered to become responsible citizens and to make changes in our lives that will improve not only our environment but also our quality of life. This behavioural change in society is crucial to a sustainable future.


Thank you.