Battery startup born out of University of Queensland raises $1.74 million to fuel rapid growth plans

Pure Battery Technologies

Pure Battery Technologies chief executive Bjorn Zikarsky. Source: Supplied.

Brisbane startup Pure Battery Technologies has raised $1.74 million to commercialise University of Queensland-developed technology to improve the production of batteries for electric vehicles.

The technology enables the nickel and cobalt minerals required for making batteries to be more easily extracted, and then converted into the components quickly and cheaply.

The technology has been in development at the university since about 2011, however, the startup was launched to start commercialising it in November 2017, when researchers William Hawker and James Vaughan brought new chief executive Bjorn Zikarsky on board.

Hawker and Vaughan are both remaining on at the startup, as chief technology officer and research and development advisor, respectively, although Vaughan is also remaining in his research role at the university.

The funds have been raised from the University of Queensland, as well as several high-net-worth individuals who have not been named.

Zikarsky tells StartupSmart he and the team will use the funds to construct a demonstration plant in Brisbane. The technology is already proven, he says, but this will show customers it will work on a larger scale.

The funding will also go towards a feasibility study for building a manufacturing facility in Townsville, which Zikarsky says will be able to process 25,000 tons of nickel per year.

The startup has also applied for government grant funding that could make the upcoming developments “even more meaningful”, Zikarsky says.

Zikarsky predicts the new manufacturing facility will create 100 new jobs in Townsville, and soon.

“We want to push the button,” he says.

“We want to be in operation in 12 months time.”

For a startup that’s been in business little more than a year, such growth is unusual, to say the least. But, for this venture to have legs, it has to work at scale, Zikarsky says.

“It’s not ambitious,” he says, noting in China “they’re building things 10 times the size in half the time”.

Although it’s a startup, Pure Battery Technologies is not like a retail or marketing-type business, which can grow gradually.

“We’ve built something where we have to put a significant facility into place because the people that we’re talking too … they’re not going to entertain long discussions with people who are trying to [sell] 100 tons,” Zikarsky says.

“They’re looking for significant volumes to make a large amount of batteries, and that’s what we’re addressing. We’re addressing a real market need.”

As electric vehicles become more mainstream, Australia has an opportunity to play a part in how they’re built, Zikarsky says.

“We’re contributing based on the resources we have on the ground, and based on some of the advances in processing that we can contribute,” he adds.

While he doesn’t believe Australia will be able to compete on costs when it comes to actually building the kinds of batteries required for the industry, it does have raw materials and advanced processes extracting and converting them.

“In the middle of the supply chain, we’re actually really good,” Zikarsky says.

“We can make this more effective, we can create more value, and then we can license [the technology] or work with big companies so they can have the cheap power and the cheap manufacturing capabilities to do that. That’s where I think we fit in,” he adds.

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