Grant Reynolds Grant Reynolds

Research collaboration to develop new material for energy storage 

An essential ingredient in products ranging from smartphone touch screens to home insulation is being explored for use in advanced energy storage.

Boron is one of the critical chemical elements that make up the planet. When combined with oxygen and other elements it forms borates, which have become an essential, though unheralded, component of modern life.

It can be added to soil with boron deficiencies for improving crop yields and product quality, in energy-saving applications, including insulation for homes and buildings, as well as in energy generation, such as in high strength permanent magnets used in modern wind turbines.

The element has come along way since the 20-mule team hauled carts of borate out of California’s Death Valley in the 19th century.

A partnership between UOW and one of the world’s largest minerals producers, Rio Tinto Minerals (RTM), is seeking to find new applications for boron in energy, such as hydrogen storage and advanced batteries.

RTM mines approximately three million tonnes of borate ore every year from its California mine. It supplies more than a third of the global demand of refined borate products.

Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials (ISEM) researcher Dr Zhenguo Huang has been working with RTM’s Denver-based research and development team to solve fundamental challenges in materials chemistry for the design of new boron-based compounds with potential applications in batteries and hydrogen storage.

“Boron can form many boron-hydrogen rich compounds that have very high hydrogen content,” Dr Huang said. “These types of compounds have been intensively studied for hydrogen storage, which remains as a key hurdle to the wide deployment of hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles.

“The collaboration will give us the best platform to strategically develop compounds that meet today's and future demand for key boron containing compounds for the increasing demand for energy.” 

Boron has been a key element in commercial electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries, and Dr Huang recently discovered a boron-containing compound that outperforms the commercial compounds as the electrolyte for the emerging sodium-ion batteries.

RTM Vice President, Marketing and R&D, Keith Sperring said the collaboration combines RTM’s expertise on boron with UOW’s technical expertise and testing capabilities to develop new or improved energy sources for transportation.

Energy is a strategic pillar for RTM with boron being used in applications that conserve energy, such as insulation, and in applications that generate energy, such as oil fields, solar and wind. Boron’s role in the next generation of energy applications is a growth area for Rio Tinto Minerals.

UOW recently celebrated the impact of its research at an event to mark 40 years as an independent education institution.

During those 40 years the University has become a hotbed for innovative research and helped transition Wollongong from a manufacturing hub into a knowledge economy.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Judy Raper launched a publication celebrating the achievements of UOW researchers.

Related publications

  • Energy & Environmental Science, 2012,5, 9257-9268
  • Chemical Communication, 2015, 51, 9809-9812
  • Chemical communication, 2015, 51, 2641-2644
  • RSC Advances, 2013,3, 7460-7465
  • Journal of Materials Chemistry A, 2015, 3, 11411–11416
  • Chemical Communication, 2015, 51, 9809-9812





  • Borates, from Boron, are used in all sorts of applications from fire retardants to batteries. ISEM researcher (right) Bernie (Zhenguo) Huang with Keith Sperring Vice President of Marketing and R&D at Rio Tinto Minerals USA.