This Australian company is proof that we can design and build fully recyclable, affordable, cyber-secure commercial batteries fit for energy storage in harsh conditions.
Need to know
Founders: Brian Craighead (below), 57, Julie Frikken, 50, Su McCluskey, 61
First customer: Defence Science and Technology Group, 2018
Headquarters: Head office, Sydney; factory in Tomago, Hunter Valley, NSW
Investors: High-net-worth individuals and small corporates, with grants from the Innovative Manufacturing CRC (which closed at the end of 2022), the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre and Impact Investing Australia.
Market valuation: Commercial in confidence
What is it?
“We design and manufacture lithium-ion batteries for hot climates,” says CEO and co-founder Brian Craighead. The company’s ruggedised batteries are energy storage solutions for everything from microgrids and transmission support to heavy vehicles. “Our ambition is to make batteries for Australia and to turn Australia into a big seller of batteries rather than a big buyer.” More than 90 per cent of the components in Energy Renaissance batteries are Australian-made. “Everything we can buy in Australia, we do, but we can’t manufacture the battery cells here – yet.”
How did you get it off the ground?
It started with Scottish-born Craighead’s dismay at the lack of action on Australia’s energy transition. He tapped a friend at Australian engineering giant UGL to brainstorm with its engineers, who told him that storing power safely was the problem to solve. “But everybody said, ‘It’ll be too expensive, you should make them in China.’” After two years, he went to his long-time business partner, Julie Frikken, with whom he owned digital media agency Red Bean Republic. “I said, ‘I want to sell this business and build a battery factory in Australia’, and she said, ‘Great, let’s do it.’” Together with a third co-founder, Su McCluskey, they put in their own cash. “When we thought it was viable, we did our first proper capital raise with family and friends.”
Craighead says his smartest move was contracting CSIRO early on. “Everything they do is world class and while it was expensive and time-consuming for a startup, we needed their brains on our team.” A big challenge was developing a battery that could be completely recyclable. To achieve a second life for the materials – an “unbreakable rule” for Energy Renaissance – they had to rethink battery design from the ground up.
Craighead says the battery management system (BMS) that CSIRO engineers wrote solved a technical problem and a security issue. The BMS is the brains of the batteries, enabling them to operate safely in extreme heat and ensuring they are cyber-safe. “The idea of having non-Australian software running on big batteries plugged to the electricity grid is crazy – that’s a very bad thing to go awry.”
The Tomago facility is Australia’s first “gigafactory” and the company plans to scale up, one gigafactory at a time, in other states and territories. It’s committed to setting up in the regions and will keep 1.5 per cent of batteries made to store its own rooftop solar so each factory itself will become a big battery. “We’re here to try to help save the planet – we don’t want to do that by punching it in the face.” Also in the strategy is making battery cells onshore. “Instead of selling the wool and buying back jumpers, we can be the country making the jumpers.”
Image credit: Nic Walker