Why Jens Noack thinks Queensland can lead the flow battery revolution

20 June 2024


Scientists have been studying flow batteries for more than 100 years. For the past 20, so has Adjunct Associate Professor Jens Noack.

But it is only now, in Queensland, he believes the conditions are right for this revolutionary energy technology to reach its grid-scale storage potential.

“I always say that, until now, it has been too early for flow batteries. Because the appetite has not been there,” Jens says.

“But this is changing around the world. More and more of the energy we produce is from renewable sources, we just need a better way to store it.

“Flow batteries are this storage solution. And here in Queensland everything is lining up.

“We can be a world leader here.”

An energy storage expert with German R&D giant Fraunhofer ICT – who last year signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Queensland - Jens says redox flow batteries are the key that unlocks the global renewable energy transition.

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Cheaper to make, longer lasting, and easily scalable for industrial use, flow batteries are widely seen as the missing piece that will allow societies to embrace large-scale solar and wind generation.

Now an adjunct associate professor at UQ, Jens is working with experts such as Professor Lianzhou Wang and Dr Bin Luo to perfect the science and engineering of this technology while building a business case that industry and government can get behind.

Using Queensland as a proving ground, he is working towards a future where researchers, government, and industry unite to harness the state’s ample mineral resources - and suitability for wind and solar infrastructure – to show the world how flow batteries can be industrialised for utility-scale storage purposes.

“The vision is to bring all the players in Queensland together so we can make the most of these conditions,” Jens says.

Adjunct Associate Professor Jens Noack plans to ensure Queensland leads the way in flow battery technology.
UQ Adjunct Assosciate Professor Jens Noack is an energy storage expert with German R&D giant Fraunhofer ICT. He believes Queensland is the perfect place to prove the value of flow batteries at an industrial scale.

“The energy transition is already underway here. There is deep scientific expertise at places like UQ. The battery industry can see the potential here. And the state and federal governments are supportive.

“There is an opportunity here that there isn’t in many other places. We just have to grab it.”

Here, we sit down with Jens Noack to learn exactly how redox flow batteries can change our energy future, and how we can make it happen.

Jens, for the uninitiated, what is a redox flow battery?

Jens Noack: Basically, we are talking about the ideal technology for driving the renewable energy transition here in Australia, and across the world.

Redox flow batteries are cheaper to make, safer, and have the potential for more daily hours of usage than other battery options. They are also highly adaptable, and better suited for scaling up to industrial-sized energy storage applications.

So we’re talking about a better way to store energy?

JN: That’s right. It is a scalable, cost-effective storage option for households and industrial applications. Reliable and resilient energy storage gives us the flexibility to power what we need without having to rely on backup generators that use fuels.

Currently in the world, pumped hydropower is the most dominant form of energy storage on the grid. But this type of storage comes with geological limitations. You need water, and you need large, expensive infrastructure.

And while there is an increasing amount of photovoltaics and wind energy in the grid, we also need more reliable ways to store this energy for times when there is no sun, or when there is no wind.

Flow batteries will help us plug that gap, and they will help us provide that grid-scale solution that is currently missing.

How is a flow battery different to a regular battery?

JN: The key difference is in the physical structure of the battery.

Conventional batteries, like the one you have in your phone, store energy in solid active materials. There is a single encased battery cell where the electrolyte mixes with conductors.

Jens Noack flow batteries

Flow batteries instead pump electrolytes stored in separate tanks into a power stack.

Separating the liquid from where the electrochemical reactions occur allows for the capacity and rate of charge and discharge to be adjusted separately. This gives flow batteries that greater adaptability.

If you want to scale up conventional batteries you are having to scale up all components at once, and it is much more expensive. That’s not the case with flow batteries.

Jens Noack flow batteries

They are an option that we can scale specifically to the needs an application, and they also have a decentralised storage, which increases the resilience of the whole system.

So really this is technology that is ideally suited for enabling large, industrial-scale operations to be powered reliably by renewable energy.

If flow batteries are so good, why isn’t everyone already using them?

JN: People have been exploring flow battery technology since the 1800s, but it is only now that the conditions are right to make something that is commercially viable at an industrial scale.

One of the biggest milestones for Redox flow batteries was actually here in Australia in the 1980s. Now-Emeritus Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos actually invented the vanadium redox flow battery at the University of NSW, and filed a number of related patents.

The technology has received fairly steady attention since then, but industrialising flow batteries is another thing. We need to get the manufacturing processes right.

We’re also now seeing momentum for flow batteries because the appetite is there. There is a huge rise in renewable energy deployment across the world and societies are increasingly looking at how they can work this infrastructure into their existing power grids.

So while I’ve been looking at flow batteries for 20 years, and many people before me have been exploring this technology, I would say only now things are starting to line up.


Jens the main reason you’re in Queensland is because you think this is where flow batteries can be taken to the next level. Why Queensland?

JN: First of all, in Queensland there is a clear need for flow batteries to support your energy transition. The state is moving away from the mostly coal intensive energy production industry to a renewable-based energy production industry. And Queenslanders have a very good understanding of this energy transition. You also have a good technical understanding that, with this transition, comes the need for improved energy storage.

Secondly, there are also ideal conditions here for renewable energy production. There is a high level of potential for solar production in Queensland, as well as wind production up and down the coastline.

Flow batteries are widely seen as the missing piece that will allow societies to embrace large-scale solar and wind generation.
Cheaper to make, longer lasting, and easily scalable for industrial use, flow batteries are widely seen as the missing piece that will allow societies to embrace large-scale solar and wind generation.

Another piece of the puzzle is the availability of minerals and mining resources for the batteries and the infrastructure. In Europe we have problems sourcing these materials. Here everything is in place.

And the thing that ties this all together the fact that both the state and federal governments see the potential in this technology. Just this year we’ve seen the launch of the $570 million Queensland Battery Industry Strategy, as well as the launch of the National Battery Strategy in May.

So the conditions in Queensland are perfect.

What role will you and UQ researchers play in this push for flow batteries?

JN: Battery technology, in general, is a multiskilled field that requires a wide range of expertise.

You need chemists and mechanical engineers, as well as people who understand the economics and business of battery technology, even the social aspects.

You need to bring all these people together if you are going to have a competitive battery product.

That is what this partnership between UQ and Fraunhofer is based on. We are uniting a number of different experts with a number of different skillsets in order to get this product right.

Combining the applied research of Fraunhofer with the and fundamental research of UQ allows us to do something real and beneficial in tandem with industry here in Queensland. Because you need an environment where you can develop products together with industry.

There needs to be an understanding on all sides - the industry and research and political sides – that we can do this if we work together.

We can get competitive products if we work together here in Queensland.