Why ASX battery makers are missing the Elon Musk halo effect
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Energy storage has been a big story this year, but not all ASX-listed battery makers are seeing benefits.
Redflow Energy, Protean Energy and Israel-based UltraCharge are Australia’s only listed battery makers.
The two homegrown companies Redflow (ASX:RFX) and Protean (ASX:POW) have seen their share prices steadily decline over the past year.
UltraCharge (ASX:UTR) has had a rollercoaster ride since it listed via reverse takeover in 2016, dropping from 6.2c in May last year to 2c this May, before climbing to 4.5c yesterday.
Why aren’t our battery makers performing consistently?
The problem is Australian companies don’t generally make lithium ion batteries, says Ali Asghar, senior associate for power, energy storage and electric vehicles at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“What’s happening is that the capacity of [lithium ion battery] production is doubling because of the electric vehicle industry… prices go down, and they become cheaper and faster then the ones manufactured in Australia,” he told Stockhead.
Redflow and Protean both make flow batteries, a technology that can store four to six hours of power.
Flow batteries are useful if you’re living in the desert far from the electricity grid — and they’re better than lithium batteries for home owners with solar panels. But they are becoming the Betamax of the battery world.
“The lithium ion battery keeps piggy-backing on more premium applications, and because [those manufacturers] can do that they have the ability to reduce price very quickly,” Ashgar said.
“[Alternative battery makers] haven’t been able to scale production because they don’t have another industry to piggy back on.”
As a result they can’t compete on price with modular lithium batteries.
Protean Energy is focusing on its wave energy design and a newly acquired, half-owned Korean flow battery tech company.
It’s trying to keep the ship afloat with anticipated solar power sales in West Australia, putting direct or salary payments on hold and cutting costs.
But at the end of the last quarter Protean had $164,000 in the bank, and expected to spend $603,000 in this quarter.
Managing director Stephen Rogers has been contacted for comment.
UltraCharge does have a new type of lithium battery which is not yet commercialised — and this month bought the exclusive licence for an experimental flow battery technology.
“The main objective in UltraCharge is to be able to deliver a solution for the energy storage market,” UltraCharge CEO Kobi Ben-Shabat told Stockhead.
“Our strategy was to be able to have the option for two of the best technologies around… we wanted to have [an] alternative technology and solution for the energy storage application without any major effect on the company share structure or financials.”
Ben-Shabat says they aren’t planning to develop the flow battery IP until after a review of the business, but do have the go ahead for a pilot project for a lithium ion battery-powered e-bus, after partnering with global battery supplier Leclanche in March.
Over at Redflow, which is led by Internet entrepreneur Simon Hackett, they’re finally grinding out the kinds of industrial-scale projects clean-tech analysts say the tech is suited to.
Analysts like Redflow’s tech. But a rushed attempt to earn money from residential buyers was a mistake – particularly as it coincided with Tesla’s Powerwall sweeping the market.
Redflow signed its first major deal in May with New Zealand telco infrastructure provider Hitech Solutions.
Simon Hackett has been contacted for comment.
There are five other Australian battery makers — all unlisted.
Two make traditional lead acid batteries, one is experimenting with another flow battery, and two are in the lithium ion game.