Newly Funded Energy Storage Projects Show Promise

As renewable energy becomes more commonplace, governments in the U.S., Germany, and Japan, are funding research into ways to store that energy – the big focus right now being advanced batteries. So reports The New York Times.

The main problem with batteries is that they don’t last long enough. But there are now tiny substances called nanomaterials emerging that can hold the charge much longer, said. Dr. Valeria Nicolosi, a research professor at Trinity College in Dublin.

Nicolosi is working on such technologies, with money from the European Research Council. In August, Britain, connected its first large-scale battery, rated at 2 megawatts, to its power grid in August, in the Orkney Islands. The system is as large as several cargo containers and can store more than 10,000 times as much energy as an iPad battery.

In Texas, Duke Energy, a utility, has started using a powerful 36-megawatt batter at a wind farm there, the Times reports.

But the energy storage projects aren’t limited to batteries. Researchers in New Hampshire and Germany are working on projects that compress air created by solar and wind power and store it in places like caverns during times of excess electricity production. The air is then released later, when power is needed, through the use of turbines.

The New Hampshire project was built by energy storage solution provider SustainX. The project, an isotherm compressed air energy storage (ICAES) system, received $5.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). So reports

To date, the most common energy storage methods employ huge hydropower systems. Water is pumped uphill with extra electricity. It is then released through turbines when it is needed. But these structures are hard to construct as they are large. Still, Wales is considering building one.

In Germany, the government is devoting $270 million to energy storage research, says Eicke Weber, who directs the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE and recently founded the German Energy Storage Association. So reports the Times. The German government is also making about $68 million available in subsidies for systems that pair batteries with solar panels so residents can use both at their homes – though not much has been used so far, Weber said.

Japan also made money available last year to support small-scale energy storage systems that can be paired with solar panels, says Abigail Ward, a market analyst at the global research group IHS. In light of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Japanese government wants to increase renewable energy usage.

In the U.S., California regulators are expected this week to mandate that electric utilities add energy storage capacity. It would be the first policy of its kind in the U.S.

A Penn State-led team won a $3 million grant from the DOE for applied battery research. The two-year grant from the DOE’s Vehicle Technology Office supports the project “High Energy, Long Cycle Life Lithium-ion Batteries for PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) Applications.” So reports Penn State News.

Carlo Segre, a physics professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, has received a $3.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) to develop battery technology that could more than double the current range of electric vehicles (EV), while reducing costs, increasing safety, and making the recharging process simpler.

In the meantime, GE announced that its energy storage technology, the Durathon Battery, has successfully powered GE Mining’s Scoop, an underground vehicle that transports mining materials, at Coal River Energy, LLC in Alum Creek, West Virginia. And BC Hydro is creating a new one-megawatt battery bank to store clean energy. The power, produced by BC Hydro, can be stored for up to seven hours in the event of an outage. The $13 million Battery Energy Storage project, located within the boundaries of Yoho National Park, took two years to complete and was financed with $6.5 million in funding from Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Energy Fund.

Some say governments should be doing a lot more to fund energy storage technologies, given their importance to renewable energy. So reports the Times.

There hasn’t been much money put into energy-related research in the last 10 to 15 years, said Donald Sadoway, a professor of materials chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That’s resulted in a dearth of scientists trying to address problems like energy storage, he said.

For his part, Sadoway and a team of scientists invented a liquid metal battery, which sandwiches molten salt between two common molten metals that serve as electrodes. They want to commercialize their invention but they need a lot more than the initial $15 million they raised last year. Sadoway hopes to have an industrial prototype ready in about a year.

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