By inventing a superbattery, we will, for example, place both the automobile and trucking industries on an entirely new economic foundation.
By extending the technology of power storage beyond car batteries into the "green" areas of solar, wind, and biomass, we will reconfigure the entire US electric grid. If we do it right, we can create, restore, or repatriate literally millions of jobs, and careers, in energy industries -- both those that exist today and those derived from brand-new technologies.
We will, slowly perhaps but certainly, reduce the suffocating impact of carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, and mute the uproar over climate change.
We might even be able to play all 12,000 songs on our iPod without once recharging the battery!
The beauty part of battery research is that it triggers (so far) barely any political rancor. As far as I can tell, there's no liberal or conservative position on batteries (except for the minor matter of recycling old ones). Developing power-storage technologies that will allow most cars and many power plants to run on emissions-free electricity is a refreshingly technological solution to a social, environmental, and political dilemma.
It's a fix that gores no one's ox -- unless funds now flowing to this vital area of research are bottled up or cut off by politicians with ties to the obvious special interests. As proven by that $7,500 tax break for Chevy Volt and Ford Focus buyers, resources of such magnitude, for an outcome so visionary, do not derive entirely, nor have they ever, from the cautious and short-sighted "market."
Although we're not all aware of it, taxpayers are already underwriting superbattery R&D -- just as we underwrote the Golden Spike, the New York Public Library, and the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Taxpayers will be asked for more -- pennies, really -- before the research succeeds. We should be glad to pay up, if only for the sake of kissing BP and OPEC goodbye?
Some of the greatest advances in civilization have been the work of engineers. The next great engineering advancement is visible. It's in the lab and it is tantalizingly close to solution. How soon the answer emerges depends partly on the sheer ingenuity of the researchers involved, but it also depends on the resources that will be provided -- or denied -- as the race enters the home stretch.
David Benjamin is a Brooklyn-based journalist and novelist who writes occasionally on technology issues, usually from the Luddite point of view.
This story was originally posted by EE Times.