Harvard Researchers to Develop Green-Energy Storage Battery
A team of researchers at Harvard University are working on a new type of battery based on organic molecules for storing renewable energy in an effort to make it more viable for widespread use and displace fossil fuels as energy sources. A $600,000 grant from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding the work. (Source: Harvard University)
It is interesting to see all the ARPA projects going on. That is the role of this type of orgrnization. On the other hand, you have to understand that these are early stage research projects. They encompass ideas that are not practical, yet. The amounts, as you can see, are miniscule. If the idea were really viable at that funding level, one could raise it from private investors in a very short time.
You mention that the materials are expensive. This is also true of Lithium Ion batteries. I have talked to people about ultracapicator storage over the last few years. One investor thought that they would be replacing batteries by now. I have heard less and less about it over time. That does not mean that there will not be a breakthrough sometime, but it is odd that there has not been more activity there.
Utility scale storage, whether it be for renewable sources or just to make utilities more efficient and reliable, is not practical yet. Some concepts, such as liquid metal batteries, are being developed, but they are not there yet. Since these will need to be deployed widely (meaning EVERYWHERE), cost is the main issue. A123 Systems had a utility scale Lithium Ion battery unit. That was just plain silly. The cost of such batteries for cars has been mentioned on this site many times. Imagine the cost of a whole 40' container filled with such batteries (and all the attendant cooling and control technology) and you will see how silly it is. That is what A123 was selling.
So, while I think this is a good direction to go in, don't hold your breath.
Thanks for reporting on this, Elizabeth. It's good to see some original thinking aimed at the storage problem, a very big problem indeed. Regarding Lou's comment, utility-scale storage could become a non-poroblem by going away: why do we need utilities in the first place? If renewable energy creation was done on a local, building-by-building or block-by-block basis, we wouldn't need larger utilities; they're only there for distribution of energy sources located far away from the point of use--and they add considerably to the cost.
I believe that Ambri, an MIT-spinoff, also has a battery that stores energy in the form of liquid chemicals, although it's clearly different than this one. It's good to see high-powered researchers working on the storage issue.
The developers say their compounds are non-toxic, but the source article makes too casual a relationship between organic and "green" technology.
Benzene is a fairly simple organic molecule (C6H6), but I think everyone can agree it is hardly non-toxic or "green".
I am not trying to paint their statement with the opposite brush (all organics are carcinogenic and dangerous), but I think a tiny bit more information from the developers is necessary to support the "green" statement.
Ann, that's a really, really interesting thought. It means energy delivered in bulk form to one's house, just as it's been done for more than a century. Think about it. First coal was delivered by horse-drawn carriages, shoveled down into basements to fire furnaces.
Then oil came along, and now oil trucks delivered it to houses with underground tanks to continue firing those boilers.
Today, houses without city natural gas connections will have propane delivered by trucks to above-ground tanks.
If this pans out, those organic liquids will arrive in exactly the same way. The more things change...
Elizebeth, any research and development in power optimization and generation has to be appreciated because everywhere in world peoples are facing issues with power scarcity. Eventhough if we can generate energy from solar/wind/tide, storage is a major concerns and expensive. So I think it's better to have a power optimization technology (Storage Optimization), where more power can be stored in a single cell.
Ann, I think power storage optimization technology has to be improve. In space launching vehicles (rocket) for carrying more fuel, the fuels are compressing and storing in cryogenic stage. Similarly there should be some mechanism for storing energy in cells.
Mydesign, I agree with you about storage optimization as a way forward for renewables to become more viable. What, specifically, are you thinking of in these terms? Batteries obviously are just one way to go.
Ann, I agree, everyone talks about how to generate energy with renewables and facilitating more and better ways of doing that, which I think is a great idea. But the storage problem must be solved for it to truly displace more traditional means of power and to be cost-effective on a larger scale. I also agree with you in terms of utilities and am a bit of a "hippie" in this thinking about green energy, as i know many friends who live in the countryside "off the grid" with their own local wind and power supplies. Of course, in urban and suburban areas, it's harder to do, but think what could happen if new housing developments were built with their own solar arrays or mini-wind farms (if the location was suitable)? Interesting to ponder, anyway!
I don't think this would be portable energy storage. I see it more as a tank farm where the chemicals are moved for a "discahrged" tank to a charged tank. Then a demand excededs the supply from renewable sources, the fluid is moved back form the "charged" tank to the "Discahrged" tank and the energy re-claimed. Otherwise we would have a mechanical system that would be dropping off "charged" fluid at everyones house and picking up "discharged" fluid. Probabbly much more efficient to move the energy through power lines to everyones house as it is a much simpler system, and requires very little human interaction to make it happen. Also it would require that these systems be installed in every house and business. And more cost to maintain them scattered all over. One locatin with pumps and tanks and the related skilled people to maintain. And in some areas they might even be able to use gravity for part of the move.
Something similar is done with Hydro-Electric power. There are a number of places (Niagara Falls for one) where the Hydro Plants move water to lakes and ponds during the low demand hours overnight and use that pumped water during the day to increase flows and power output.
More often than not, with the purchase of a sports car comes the sacrifice of any sort of utility. In other words, you can forget about a large trunk, extra seats for the kids, and more importantly driving in snowy (or inclement) weather. But what if there was a vehicle that offered the best of both worlds; great handling and practicality?
Science fiction author Isaac Asimov may have the best rules for effective brainstorming and creativity. His never-before-published essay, "On Creativity," recently made it to the Web pages of MIT Technology Review.
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