Korea Zinc backs storage developer Energy Vault in green push

By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Korea Zinc has agreed to invest $50 million in energy storage developer Energy Vault and use its technology to help decarbonise operations at its zinc refinery in Australia, the two companies said.

Korea Zinc is the latest major company to back Swiss-based Energy Vault, following SoftBank Group Corp, Saudi Aramco and global miner BHP Group, ahead of a planned listing on the New York Stock Exchange this quarter through a special purpose acquisition company Novus Capital.

Korea Zinc's investment increased the amount Energy Vault raised in its private investment in public equity, or PIPE, funding by 50% to $150 million from its initial target.

"This is a very strong signal for the market from a large strategic (company) and validation of our technology and putting money behind their clean energy transition strategy," Energy Vault Chief Executive Officer Robert Piconi told Reuters.

BHP and Korea Zinc are both looking to use renewable power at their mining and smelting sites and to drive electrolysers to make green hydrogen for their trucks. Energy storage will be crucial to ensure those operations can run 24/7 when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing.

Korea Zinc unit Ark Energy, which runs the company's decarbonisation efforts in Australia, likes Energy Vault's storage system as it can provide power for around eight hours compared with batteries, which have much shorter duration.

"This is what makes it attractive to us," said Ark Energy's Chief Executive Daniel Kim.

Korea Zinc aims to make its Sun Metals refinery in Queensland state one of the world's first zinc refineries to produce green zinc, part of the refinery's broader goal to shift to 80% renewable power by 2030 and 100% by 2040.

Storage is key to bringing down the refinery's energy costs, which are 30% of the plant's total costs.

"This unique solution has the potential to accelerate our energy transition and help us become the most competitive producer of green zinc in the world," Kim told Reuters, adding, "It's still early days."The investment in Energy Vault follows Korea Zinc's acquisition through Ark Energy of an Australian wind and solar farm developer.

Energy Vault plans to start building an energy storage system for Sun Metals in mid-2022. The companies have yet to disclose the size or cost of the project.

Energy Vault's EVx storage system works liked pumped hydro, using power when supply is abundant to drive motors and raise 30-tonne blocks, rather than water, up to a height. When power is needed, the blocks are lowered, which releases their potential energy to generate electricity.

Enhancing its green credentials, it has developed composite blocks working with Mexico's Cemex that can be made from soil dug up at the sites where it plans to build its storage systems and materials like mine tailings, coal ash and even decommissioned wind turbine blades.

Piconi said Energy Vault is in talks with other companies in Australia.

"I believe it's going to be one of our largest markets," he said in an interview.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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