Analysis and Commentary

Maria Skyllas-Kazacos – an innovator we should all know better

Analysis and Commentary

By Peter Roberts

Emeritus Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos (pictured) is a name few know, but we all should, as she is one of the most brilliant and somehow unappreciated innovators this country has ever produced.

Ms Skyllas-Kazacos’s name re-emerged this morning with an announcement that she had joined a Technical Advisory Group of critical mineral processing company Tivan.

Tivan is progressing development of its Mount Peake vanadium-titanium-iron project project in the Northern Territory, utilising its 100 percent owned TIVAN processing technology.

The appointment of a professor from the University of New South Wales to such a role is in itself unremarkable, but the fact we so rarely have heard of Ms Skyllas-Kazacos is.

She is an electrochemist and the inventor of the vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB), filing her first of 40 patents on the battery in 1986 after an already stellar scientific career.

While eclipsed in the public mind by the lithium ion battery, VRFB batteries are playing an increasingly important role in large-scale energy storage, especially in remote locations such as minesites.

In fact, the vanadium flow battery is in many respects a superior battery to lithium ion.

It does not use a flammable electrolyte like those which cause EV’s to occasionally burn so spectacularly. The vanadium electrolyte is not used up during operation so is infinitely recyclable, and they do not use lithium-ion’s very expensive and exotic metals, and so on.

The batteries are, however, heavy – their energy density is less than that of lithium ion making them less suitable for uses such as electric vehicles.

As Tivan said – without a word of exaggeration – in its announcement this morning: “As the inventor of the vanadium redox flow battery Ms Skyllas-Kazacos holds unique prestige in the sector, and is globally recognised for her ongoing technical contributions to the comercialisation of the technology.

“Ms Skyllas-Kazacos presence will significantly enhance Tivan’s corporate profile, and her technical knowledge and experience will be keenly sought in developing and standardising the global value chain in VRFB.”

She has certainly been recognised in science circles winning the Chemeca, Wiffen, R>K> Murphy and Castner medals, as well as being made a Member of the Order of Australia.

All true but for some reason I have never been able to fathom, Ms Skyllas-Kazacos has never received the press she deserved.

I was able to write about her when I worked for the Australian Financial Review, and @AuManufacturing has been reporting numerous developments in vanadium flow batteries (here).

Only two days ago we reported that Australian Vanadium had won a $49 million federal government Modern Manufacturing Initiative grant to support construction and commissioning of a concentrator and high-purity vanadium processing facility capable of using green hydrogen.

This is a critical step in establishing a VRFB value-chain and manufacturing industry in Australia.

But Ms Skyllas-Kazacos has rarely appeared in the media over the decades, apart from the ABC of course, the occasional newspaper article, and copious coverage in the Greek Herald – but really very little compared to her contribution to science.

Ms Skyllas-Kazacos said of her latest appointment that she shared the same passion for clean energy and a carbon-free future as Tivan Executive Chairman Grant Wilson.

She said: “It’s been a very long wait, but the time for the clean energy transition has finally arrived and I am so happy to see the VRB is being recognised as an important enabling technology for this transition.

“I was therefore delighted to accept Grant’s invitation to join the Technical Advisory Group at Tivan so that I can help to create a thriving vanadium industry here in Australia.”

Ms Skyllas-Kazacos – you have already done the heavy lifting in creating a thriving vanadium industry.

Further reading:
Sun Cable diversifies to supply Tivan mineral processing business
Grant supports development of vanadium battery industry
Browse @AuManufacturing’s coverage of vanadium redox flow batteries here.

Picture: Emeritus Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos

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