WA lithium research to ‘transform energy use’ in Australia

Researchers at Murdoch University are developing lithium technology which will transform the way the world uses energy.

Dean of the School of Engineering and Information Technology, Professor Bogdan Dlugogorski, said Murdoch University was leading the switch from traditional fossil fuels to clean renewables.

“Our researchers are collaborating closely with industry to meet their evolving needs during the move from fossil fuels to renewables and clean energy storage through batteries and supercapacitors,” Dlugogorski said.

“Lithium, which is both lighter and less toxic than lead, is central to this transformation of battery power.

“Technology, centred around lithium-ion glass ceramic electrolytes, is able to provide inexpensive energy storage with improved efficiency and cycling stability.”

Prof Dlugogorski said that demand for lithium was going to increase, claiming that the “current limited production of lithium is barely satisfying the needs for mobile handheld communication devices and electric vehicles industries”.

“The Tesla Powerwall is amongst the first of a number of large scale renewable energy storage options to hit the market, and lithium-ion batteries are the most attractive rechargeable technology for the small but rapidly growing electric vehicles industry,” he said.

Prof Dlugogorski explained that researchers are working on a number of fronts to help Western Australia to capitalise on this need, building on 40 years of work in this field at Murdoch University.

“Our reputation as a driving force in this field began with the eminent Professor Jim Parker’s minerals and electrochemistry group in the late 1970s and has now grown into a research powerhouse based at the University,” he said.

“Professors Ian Ritchie and Mike Nicol have also contributed to the success in hydrometallurgy research, including the pilot plant studies at Murdoch through the Parker Cooperative Research Centre.”

Murdoch University’s current lithium research program is now centred around the work of Dr Manickam Minakshi, Dr Hans Oskierski and Associate Professor Gamini Senanayake.

The researchers are supervising a range of projects with ANSTOAINSE and MRIWA and international partners to develop novel lithium extraction processes. Dr Oskierski recently won research grants on mineral carbonation from AINSE to support his PhD research students.

“We are helping to develop technology to unlock the potential for lithium production from spodumene and unutilised mineral resources, particularly in Western Australia,” Dlugogorski said.

“We are also working on the development of improved uses for lithium, with Dr Minakshi engaged in developing novel materials for batteries and capacitors with local industry partners.

“Murdoch is also aiming to invite lithium researchers to Western Australia’s first Lithium Conference in 2018 organised in collaboration with AusIMM.”