May 24, 2018
In 2016, when 1.7 million residents in the state of South Australia were left without electricity following storm damage to critical infrastructure, nickel inadvertently became the quiet achiever in tackling climate change and addressing political energy policies.
Immediately following the crisis, which left some residents without power for up to two weeks, the Hornsdale Power Reserve project was born off the back of a promise by Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery in South Australia in 100 days.
Tesla has constructed the 129 MWh battery in partnership with the state government and Neoen, the French renewable energy company that owns the adjacent Hornsdale Wind Farm. It’s designed to load balance the state’s renewable energy generation and allow for emergency back-up power during predicted short falls. Essentially, the battery stores the energy already being generated by wind and solar.
Whilst the exact chemistry of the lithium-ion batteries used at the reserve has not been communicated, Musk has previously said that for its grid battery, Tesla would use a lithium-ion chemistry with a nickel, manganese, cobalt oxide cathode.
Traditional NMC battery configurations, as they are known, used one third equal parts nickel, manganese and cobalt. However, battery manufacturers are starting to play with the relative proportions of nickel, cobalt and manganese, with latest reports showing up to 80% nickel use. As the nickel goes up, the ability of the battery to absorb lithium increases so they get higher in capacity, and cheaper to make. Nickel, cobalt, graphite and lithium serve as the biggest drivers for the overall battery cost, which Tesla has managed to reduce by 35%.