Sun Metals Hooks Up With Energy Vault

Energy Vault and Sun Metals

Australia’s Sun Metals’ parent company Korea Zinc is ploughing a significant chunk of cash into Swiss energy storage developer Energy Vault.

Sun Metals Corporation is the operator of Queensland’s biggest zinc refinery, located 15km south of Townsville. The company is aiming to be one of the first in the world to produce “green” zinc by using renewable energy, with a target of shifting to 100% renewables by 2040 and an interim goal of 80% by 2030.

It has already made solid progress towards this goal with the Sun Metals Solar Farm. Operational since August 2018, the facility incorporates more than 1.3 million solar panels.

Also in the pipeline is Acciona’s MacIntyre Wind Farm in Queensland (923MW), which will provide approximately 64% of Sun Metals’ zinc refinery’s electricity requirements; adding to the 24% provided by the solar farm.  Additionally, the company set up by Korea Zinc to decarbonise the group’s energy supply (Ark Energy Corporation) announced in December it will acquire a 100% interest in Australian wind and solar energy developer Epuron.

A missing piece in the strategy for Sun Metals has been energy storage – a piece that may now be in place.

What Is Energy Vault?

Energy Vault is a Switzerland-based company developing gravity energy storage solutions. The Energy Vault system utilises gravity and kinetic energy through the autonomous orchestration of lifting and lowering of very large “bricks”. Surplus renewable energy is used to power Energy Vault’s electric motor/generator crane system to lift the bricks into position, “charging” the battery. When energy is required, the bricks are control-released, generating electricity.

Here’s the EVx tower concept in action:

And here’s the Energy Vault Resiliency Center  (EVRC) concept:

Energy Vault claims a 85%  round trip efficiency for its  EVx system and a service life of more than 35 years.

Energy Vault Attracting Australian Attention – And Cash

Sun Metals parent company Korea Zinc announced last week an investment of $US50 million through a partnership with Energy Vault, which aims to support development of the energy storage system and renewable power supply/optimization to support Sun Metals’ refining infrastructure.

“We look forward to collaborating with Energy Vault in pursuit of our goal to become the first refinery in the world to produce green zinc made entirely from renewable energy,” said Sun Metals CEO Kiwon Park. “As the second largest consumer of electricity in Queensland, Sun Metals has a strong focus on being both environmentally responsible and the most competitive zinc refinery in the world.”

The Korea Zinc deals closely follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in December between Energy Vault and Australian resources company BHP. That partnership will focus on delving into the application of Energy Vault’s technology to support power supply and energy storage at certain BHP operations. The MOU builds on a strategic investment BHP made in the company earlier last year.

One of the interesting aspects of Energy Vault is the bricks can be made through the use of recycled or local, low-cost materials – and the BHP partnership may involve looking into using mine tailings to produce the bricks.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Rusty Cherkas says

    Another $50 million for this pipedream?
    Do those who approve these investments not have access to engineers or even to the several “debunk” videos already posted to YouTube?

    The stacked towers are unfeasible (except, perhaps, in CGI), and the “warehouse shelving structure” of the building concept seems to require more high quality steel than the Sydney Harbour Bridge (to store a measly amount of energy.)

    Rule #1 of engineering design: Adding more technology to overcome technological hurdles is a red flag that the concept is unworkable.

    The need is for inexpensive, “dumb” and reliable energy storage. Far, far too many expensive and sophisticated moving parts and potential points of “hard to remedy” points of failure.

    • It does seem like a silly idea to artifically manufacture a a hight differential where nature is filled with them.

      • rusty cherkas says

        It’s a Swiss start-up, so building the prototype in Switzerland (while not noticing the surrounding mountains) may be reasonable…

        Ask Google for “Images Swiss Cuckoo Clocks”…
        The inspiration of “gravity energy” is a bit too comical.

  2. Ronald Brakels says

    A couple of cost saving ideas for the Jenga Tower of Power:

    1. Use containers full of water instead of expensive concrete.

    2. Make use of natural height, such as a hill, to save money and slide the water containers down a large pipe.

  3. Des Scahill says

    There may well be a ‘niche’ market for what is basically a variation of ‘pumped hydro’.

    1) The raw ‘ fuel’ materials – usually mostly mine tailings- are right next door, (representing a possible future pollution problem), so not much cost needed for external ‘transport’. of a storage medium eg. lithium batteries

    2) Mines within OZ are usually located in very remote areas. the ‘middle of nowhere’, perhaps even with no ‘hills’ of any significance around at all or anywhere nearby.

    3) The engineering and technical skills needed to properly maintain and do any needed repairs or fix problems are probably either already ‘in-house’ or can be easily acquired by existing staff.

    4) no problem with evaporation of water stored ‘somewhere’ in a reservoir, ( and future temps very likely to increase evaporation rates )

    5) adds a modest amount of diversification to a mine’s energy needs..

    Sure, it’s perhaps not yet fully developed as a workable concept at scale.

    All they’re proposing at the moment is an initial ‘development’ to find out what problems might exist if it’s scaled up – they’ve already been through a ‘small scale’ trial site.phase.

    How many refinements and variations have Tesla had to make to reach their present level of capability?.

    It’s early days yet, and at least they’re trying to do something positive about the industry’s overall energy needs. Like any new approach it’s going to take time.

    Don’t forget too that they are ultimately aiming for overall mine ‘self-sufficiency’, along with diversification of supply, so its inevitable that some components of that will cost more than other components. They might still consider it’s still worthwhile to incur some added costs, for quite valid overall strategic reasons.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      The Tower of Power is the sort of thing that can be set up at an off-grid mine and then moved to another location once the mine is played out. But looking at current battery pack prices, I think this will have a very hard time being competitive.

      • Des Scahill says

        Quite true, but that’s not the point I’m making. Can you imagine being a mining company that can truthfully say something like – “!00% of our mining processes are now carried out using renewable energy sources. We achieved net zero carbon emissions in 2025, and truly zero emissions at some of our plants in 2028. All the products you buy from us are now officially viewed as being ‘green’ products.”.

        The potential marketing benefits for a mining company to be able to make such statements vs the small added effects of more expensive costs for a small proportion of their overall energy supply are huge.

        .

    • rusty cherkas says

      There’s a difference between “development time” and “milking the scheme until found out.”

      Apart from the practical (and obvious, imho) problems with rapid, precise, outdoor ‘picking-up’ and stacking of 30t blocks at the ends of cables controlled from 120m overhead, the fact that they’ve already spent lots investor money on a prototype Jenga Tower (that is not shown in operation), their recent ‘pivot’ to moving it all indoors should be setting off alarm bells.

      fwiw, the location of that prototype crane can be seen at:
      https://what3words.com/cracker.sprouting.animate
      I’m guessing the aerial photo pre-dates its construction.

      The art of Burlesque was to make an audience lay down their cash by enticing them to think they were going to see something special. Energy Vault is 21st century Burlesque, and it’s drawing investment dollars away from realistic, practical solutions, presenting only tantalizing “CGI representations”. Too much belief in video games.

      • rusty cherkas says

        My apologies…
        I’ve just gone back to have a closer look at the aerial photo available through What3Words and notice an unusual shadow a short distance to the west of the location I noted in my previous comment.

        Here’s the location of what seems to be the base of the Energy Vault prototype that features in their 2 minute video:

        https://what3words.com/routine.bookings.birthdays

        Funny shadow (pointing almost due north). Funny location…

      • rusty cherkas says

        Heaven’s sake!
        I’ve just been back to the aerial photo shown by “What3Words.com” and see that the current (undated) version shows the Energy Vault crane(s) (especially the shadow thereof) at the first location, not “to the west” at all…

        https://what3words.com/tiptoes.tonight.mallets

        It’s tough trying to work in a world of every changing information!

        From the company’s animation, the full stack tower is shown to be made of approximately 40 layers, each with 200 blocks (ie: 8,000 35t blocks). Given that concrete is about 2.5t/cu.m, each block would be about 2.2m(h)x1.8m(w)x3.6m(l)… Not exactly as delicate as depicted in the company’s CGI. As a significant number of lower blocks would not participate in energy storage/recovery (20%??), there’s a lot of “overhead” that would not be returning value for the investment…

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