If we can solve the problem of storing significant amounts of energy over long periods of time reliably, and with reasonable cost, we can change the world in ways not yet imagined!
You can find a PBS video that talks about innovative methods that are being developed that do not even involve batteries if you look under the Technology tab at the website for a company discussed in the above article. Great stuff!
A while back I wrote about technologies being worked on for regenerating and saving energy that would otherwise be wasted. This is the way hybrid vehicles work, and this is the way that the London Underground is experimenting with powering an underground station, using the energy regenerated when trains brake to come to a stop in a station.
At that time I pointed out that one of the major issues with using regenerated energy was the need to store the energy for later use. Batteries that are used to store electric energy today simply do not do a good enough job when it comes to saving significant amounts of energy efficiently for long periods of time. This is one of the reasons that solar systems that are used to power homes in the US today do not in general use battery storage. Instead of capturing the excess energy that is generated during the day in batteries and then powering the home from the stored batteries during the night, these systems send the excess power back into the electric grid during the day, and draw power from the grid during the night.
It turns out that that there is actually quite a bit of work going on regarding new battery technologies. A lot of this work is in the R&D stage. I came upon an article recently about one such company. As could be expected with some R&D work, this technology seems to have been given birth to in a university setting. The more I read about the technology at that company’s website, the more fascinated I became. There is quite a bit of innovation going on, and it is only a matter of time and investment before new technologies with far greater potential (no pun intended!) than today’s batteries will become real. From the perspective of this particular company, such improvement in performance can be powered by a fundamental change in the way in which the layout of the battery takes place. It involves thinking about the layout of the anode and the cathode for the battery in a true 3D sense rather than the traditional 2D manner. This kind of a layout is facilitated by newer technologies that were not available in the past, but that are more common today (think nanotechnologies!).
All of this made me interested in further investigating the playing field of battery technologies, and I came upon a few articles, some of them not that recent.
There is much other work going on in battery technology, some of it along more conventional lines. A lot of this work is motivated by real needs of today’s existing infrastructure, and also by other newer areas of development, including the ongoing emergence of the electric powered automobile as a real consumer product.
What we will have to remember when some of these technologies mature is that unless they are used in the right context, they are likely to create additional problems that will need to be addressed and solved. If quick recharging of high capacity batteries from the electric grid becomes a common need, the grid itself will have to change.