A new national lithium research hub in Western Australia is hoped to take the state a step closer to developing a battery manufacturing industry.
The $135 million centre, announced on Wednesday, will operate out of Curtin University in Perth and will look at how to better source minerals and process them into chemicals that are used to develop batteries.
The research centre will be jointly funded by the federal government, the state government and industry to the tune of $53 million.
It will also receive $82 million of in-kind support from the sector.
Federal Minister for Industry Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, said the co-operative research centre was about lifting Australia’s role in the battery value chain.
“We are clearly not just digging these minerals out of the earth,” she said.
“We will be extracting, processing and looking at the technology to develop the components to go into energy storage systems.”
Ms Andrews said WA was well placed to host the centre.
“It’s quite clear that Australia has an abundance of resources and minerals, in particular, that are essential to the development of battery and energy storage systems,” she said.
“Western Australia clearly has many of those minerals.”
A step to battery making
Premier Mark McGowan said the news was a big victory for WA.
“I want Australians and the rest of the world to see Western Australia as a hub for battery minerals and a manufacturing centre for some of the processes along the way to making a battery,” he said.
“That will create thousands of jobs for our state and put us at the cutting edge of industry and technology development around the world.”
Mr McGowan said the centre could pave the way for a battery-making industry in WA.
“There are a number of steps to go until you get to batteries, but a [research centre] means that the research capacity will be here and the world interest will be here in WA,” he said.
Ms Andrews said lithium battery manufacturing was still a way off.
“There’s a little bit of uncertainty about whether or not developing a battery manufacturing centre here in Western Australia or even in Australia is viable at the moment,” Ms Andrews said.
“We certainly know that there is an opportunity for us to manufacture the components, for example the cathodes in the battery, but at this point in time it would seem a way off before we look at lithium batteries.”
Future Battery Industries CRC chairman Tim Shanahan said one of the goals of the centre would be to undertake research that supports the viability of making batteries in Australia.
“That’s what we would like to see, so that all the materials that we produce in Australia will eventually be put into a factory that might be here in Australia,” he said.
“That would certainly be the holy grail of this activity.”
But Mr Shanahan said the very first step would be recruiting researchers from across Australia to get battery research up and running by July 1.
“We are keen to hit the ground running and get this thing started as soon as possible,” he said.
Jobs for regional WA
Although the centre will be based in Perth, Mr Shanahan said a lot of research would be carried out on the ground in the state’s lithium hotspots: Kwinana, the South West, the Goldfields and the Pilbara.
“One of the key things that we’re interested in is what can be done to develop those precincts from what they are today to perhaps be multifaceted and more interdependent business environments [to] create economic growth in the regions,” Mr Shanahan said.