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Australian First Repurposing a Zinc Mine as a Power Plant

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Canadian renewable energy innovator Hydrostor’s Australian operation is set to break ground on Australia’s first commercial-scale demonstration project of its Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (A-CAES) technology in the coming months.

The project has been launched in partnership with Terramin, the owner and operator of the Angas Zinc Mine in Strathalbyn, 60 km southeast of Adelaide. The development will see the former mine repurposed as a source of emissions-free electricity. Development consent has been granted by the South Australian government, and detailed design is now in progress. 

AECOM has been contracted for the above-ground engineering of the facility, which will be capable of generating 5MW/10MWH of emissions-free energy once finished. Hydrostor project director Alex Strehle tells Jobsite that Melbourne firm Mincore will be engineering consultant for the below-ground works so that the existing mine cavern are used for air storage.

Tenders for the construction closed this month, and Strehle says the construction is expected to commence in the coming months.

Should everything go according to plan, powerplant will begin operations by 2021.

The electricity generated by the facility will help support continuous baseload power by acting as a “battery” for solar and wind energy generated in South Australia.

The $30-million project received $6 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) on behalf of the Australian Federal Government. It also obtained $3 million in funding from the South Australian Government through its Renewable Technology Fund.

In recent weeks, Hydrostor has also successfully closed on growth financing of US$37 million, the majority of which is destined for funding the Angas project’s construction and commissioning.

The mine had been decommissioned and in care and maintenance mode. Only the above-ground processing facility is still utilised for other zinc deposits mined by Terramin in the region.

ARENA noted the new lease of life for the mine cavern will help to increase renewable energy supply to the South Australian and national energy grid while converting a brownfield site into a clean energy hub at the same time.

The facility will provide synchronous inertia, load shifting, frequency regulation and support for grid security and reliability, ARENA said.

It works by taking energy from the grid to produce compressed air which is then stored in the adapted mine cavern 240m below the ground. The cavern is kept at constant pressure using the hydrostatic head from a water column, Hydrostor Australia’s Managing Director Greg Allen explained.

When charging, heat from the compressed air is collected and stored before the cooled air displaces water out of the cavern up to a water reservoir on the surface. To discharge, water flows back into the cavern, forcing air to the surface under pressure, where it is heated with the stored thermal energy and drives a turbine to generate electricity.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the pilot project could open up a new form of renewable energy storage in Australia.

“Compressed air storage has the potential to provide similar benefits to pumped hydro energy storage, however, it has the added benefits of being flexible with location and topography, such as utilising a cavern already created at a disused mine site,” Miller said.

Hydrostor CEO Curtis VanWalleghem claimed Hydrostor is very appreciative of the contributions from ARENA and the Government of South Australia.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to demonstrate the significant benefits of adding our flexibly-sited, low-cost, bulk energy storage to the diverse range of technology helping Australia transition to a lower-cost, high system strength, cleaner electricity grid.”

The company is expecting the construction phase to create around 40 jobs, with further four ongoing positions to be created over the 30-year expected lifespan of the facility.

South Australian Trade Tourism and Investment Minister David Ridgway also welcomed the benefits Hydrostor’s investment will bring the state and the local community.

“Hydrostor is the latest in a line of high profile, international renewables companies to set up operations in this state,” he said.

“With 47 per cent of South Australia’s energy production now coming from renewable sources our state is, without doubt, a major global player, and this is reflected in the $7 billion worth of investment we’ve attracted into the local industry.”

At the official project launch in February this year, Terramin Australia CEO Richard Taylor suggested the project is an example of the co-operative use of underground facilities for other mine owners around Australia and globally to follow.

“It makes good sense—we have prior mining assets and current processing facilities that are fully equipped with large power connections, excellent environmental management on a site that is being supported by a local community engagement group,” Mr Taylor said.

The New South Wales government also appears to want a piece of the action, with Hydrostor granted a share of funding in recent weeks under the $75 million Emerging Energy Program for early-stage feasibility studies for a proposed 200 MW A-CAES facility at a mine site at Broken Hill in the state’s northwest.

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