Wollongong lithium battery start-up Sicona Battery Technologies has revealed plans for a $50-60 million development plant in Shellharbour.
Sicona unveiled plans this week for a factory that would produce the materials for batteries for up to 225,000 iPhones in the Illawarra and employ 40 full time, highly trained, technical staff and between 20 to 40 part time factory staff.
The company has been in discussions with Shellharbour Council to locate the facility at Shellharbour Airport, with work underway for the airport aviation business park.
Sicona, which started out based on research developed at the University of Wollongong, has big plans for manufacturing in the region, even as the wider battery manufacturing sector races to catch up with counterparts in Asia and the United States.
In a submission to the National Battery Strategy Issues Paper, which prepares the ground for the beginning of the Australian government's push to manufacture batteries in Australia, rather than just shipping the raw materials overseas, Sicona outlined that there is no existing battery manufacturing industry in Australia, despite the country possessing most of the raw materials required in abundance.
"Australia should already be producing batteries at gigawatt (GWh) scale and now is the time to accelerate an advanced battery tech industry and ecosystem," Sicona writes in its submission.
The breakthrough research at the University of Wollongong found a way to produce cheaper and more efficient battery materials, enabling smaller batteries with the same amount of charge, or allowing companies to fit in more energy in the existing battery footprint.
Working out of an office at iAccelerate and a pilot plant on Montague Street in North Wollongong, Sicona can now produce 2.5 tonnes a year but is seeing the demand for much more.
"The next step along the way would be a commercial development plant," Dr Minett said.
This is the facility that the company is planning for Shellharbour, but the rapid acceleration in the battery space forces it to think well ahead.
"Normally, you build your pilot plant and run that for a couple of years, pull all the data, then you design your commercial development plant. You build that, you run that, and then when you've got all the data out of that, then you design your commercial plant," Dr Minett said.
"Unfortunately the battery world is going way faster than that."
While China has traditionally dominated the lithium battery market, the US is investing vast sums as part of its Inflation Reduction Act to catch up, both to decarbonise domestically and for strategic, sovereign capability reasons.
Currently, CEO and co-founder Christiaan Jordaan, is scoping out opportunities to set up a commercial scale plant in the US, but Mr Minett said the company is also keeping its local options open, with talks to build a commercial plant in Port Kembla.
"This is at the federal level, and then, if we can, we can catalyse the whole industry here," Dr Minett said.
"I went to uni here, I did my PhD here, we picked up the [intellectual property] out of here, and a full-blown commercial plant here. That's the entire story."