5 minutes with Redflow CEO Tim Harris

Redflow

With the recent announcement that Australian battery developer Redflow has expanded into China, we speak with its CEO to see why the technology is making waves.

Tell us a little bit about your career background and how you came to be at Redflow …

Redflow is an Australian energy storage company that is strongly focused on providing long-duration energy storage across a number of industries and markets. I became CEO and managing director at Redflow in March 2018 after holding senior roles in the telecommunications sector, including being chief commercial officer for Chorus in New Zealand and managing director, South East Asia, for BT Global Services. As well as my understanding and business networks from the telecoms space – which is a key focus for Redflow – I brought an international perspective that we believe is essential for Redflow to achieve its strategic goal of making its zinc-bromine flow batteries the long-life energy storage system of choice in our target markets.

Can you tell us a little about the history of Redflow?

Redflow was established in 2005 to develop world-leading technology that uses a zinc bromide electrolyte solution to store and discharge energy. Our company was listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2010 and currently employs about 50 people at its Brisbane corporate office. We also operate a purpose-developed manufacturing facility in Thailand, near a major port south-east of Bangkok, which simplifies the process of linking to our global supply chains and delivering our batteries to international markets. Redflow is a company with innovation in its DNA. One of the major challenges of developing world-leading technology is that we need to figure out how to solve each problem on our own: Unlike with lithium batteries, we can’t just look to see how others have solved key technical problems. Yet, because our zinc-bromine flow batteries deliver unique performance advantages over legacy batteries types such as lithium and lead-acid, we believe we’re delivering an enormously important energy storage breakthrough. Redflow batteries are already installed in countries including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Thailand, Europe and South Africa.

Redflow
Redflow batteries with Victron inverters in Ban Pha Dan, Thailand

Can you tell us about the technology Redflow is developing and how it works?

Redflow’s zinc-bromine flow battery – marketed as ZBM2 for commercial deployments and ZCell for residential use – is a unique energy storage system that redefines your understanding of how a battery works. Unlike legacy batteries, our scalable 10 kilowatt-hour (kWh) flow battery can deliver 100 per cent depth of discharge every day for many years without causing any damage to the battery. With a 10-year warranty, Redflow’s battery maintains its original 10kWh of energy storage capacity throughout its operating life, whereas other battery types lose storage capacity with time and use.

Due to the large volume and thermal retention characteristics of its liquid electrolyte, the Redflow battery can work problem-free in warm climatic conditions without external cooling. Unlike legacy battery chemistries, the performance, safety and operational lifetime of the Redflow battery is unaffected by ambient temperatures as warm as 50°C (122°F). Our batteries also have a great environmental story, being made from easily recycled or reused components and do not require minerals sourced from conflict zones. At its end of life, the battery’s zinc bromide electrolyte solution can be purified and used again for new batteries.

What makes the Redflow battery unique is that it is the world’s smallest flow battery, making it available for a wide range of energy storage applications, such as telco mobile towers, small commercial and residential uses and more. The beauty of our battery’s modular design is that it can work on its own or scale to work as part of much larger energy storage systems.

You’ve just announced Redflow will be collaborating on an energy storage project in China that’s sponsored by China’s National Energy Bureau. Can you tell us about this project and its significance?

Because of its strong economic growth and national focus on renewable energy, China is obviously a very attractive market for Redflow. However, we are also conscious of the potential risks, so we spent more than a year analysing the market, strengthening our IP protection in China and identifying ZbestPower as a dependable company to partner with.

The Redflow deployment will be part of the Haidong Transportation Group’s Smart Grid Project in Qinghai Province, which is recognised as a key market in China’s shift to a low carbon renewable energy future. Sponsored by the China National Energy Bureau, this Smart Grid Project consists of a 66KW solar PV parking carport, 18 EV fast charging points, one megawatt-hour (MWh) energy storage system and smart energy management system. The energy storage system will allow the Haidong Transportation Group to charge its electric vehicles with renewable energy and grid energy at the lowest price. ZbestPower is managing the entire project while Redflow provides ongoing support. We believe demonstrating Redflow’s energy storage performance in this project will open the doors to many opportunities in this market.

What other key projects are you involved in and what’s in the pipeline?

During the past year, Redflow has secured a number of important initial battery deployments including an Optus mobile phone tower in the Daintree Rainforest, mobile phone towers in South Africa and the Knox City Council children’s centres in eastern Melbourne. We believe these installations will create the platform for many similar deployments in these market sectors.

Redflow

What are some of the challenges Redflow is facing and how is the company adapting?

During the past 15 years, Redflow has invested $100 million to design, develop and deliver a unique and world-leading energy storage system that is both operationally robust and can be manufactured to a high-quality standard at a large scale. The major challenge for Redflow now is to scale our company to supply the rapidly growing demand for energy storage systems.

How do you see the future of Australia’s energy industry evolving?

Australia is a country with abundant renewable resources. With the continuing rapid rollout of solar PV and wind power generation, energy storage systems provide the missing link to deliver reliable, affordable low-carbon energy. Redflow sees a significant role for our flow batteries in the energy storage ecosystem of the renewable energy revolution. I encourage anyone interested in energy storage to look closely at Redflow to see if our zinc-bromine flow batteries solve your problems.

Any final thoughts?

There is a broader opportunity for Australia to become a global leader in renewable energy based on our natural resource base, innovation, and ambition. Redflow is a proudly Australian company that is committed to playing a significant role in the global renewable energy market.