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Why energy storage is really superficial

If you want to improve the performance of batteries and capacitors, one sure-fire way is to increase charge density. And the way to do this is to up-scale the surface area of your electrodes. Various configurations of carbon, both alone and in combination with other elements, can provide that increase, which is why we have reported on everything from nanoflowers to a carbon nanofoam.

The latest news in the battle for increased surface area comes from Rice University, where scientists have seamlessly combined carbon nanotubes a few atoms wide and 120 microns long onto one-atom thick graphene sheets, reports Science Daily. That means that if the nanotubes were the same width as an average house, they would rise up from the graphene ‘ground’ like mega-skyscrapers… into space.

As you can imagine, that’s a lot of surface area: 2,000 square metres per gramme of material, in fact. But what about practical applications? Researchers at Rice say their tests indicate the material already performs as well as the best carbon super-capacitors.

Apathy an industry killer, says CEO

Battery technology is stuck in the 1970s and we are all to blame, says the co-founder and CEO of Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) Technologies. Well, he didn’t exactly say that, but Fernando Gomez-Baquero pointed the finger at “industry-wide apathy” in an interview which recently ran in ZDNet.

His point was that users are not demanding better results from batteries and manufacturers supplying everything from smart phones to electric vehicle modules are generally happy too churn out cheap, tried-and-tested, lower-quality products instead of taking risks with keenly-priced higher-tech options.

Gomez-Baquero also makes the point that mobile device manufacturers will need to take a global view of power management in order to make up for what he sees as the shortcomings of current lithium-ion batteries.

San Diego zoo debuts energy storage

It converts sunlight into energy, charges electric vehicles and delivers access power to the grid. And it keeps your car cool while you go feed the elephants. The newly unveiled parking lot at San Diego zoo has solar canopies that can produce up to 90kW of electricity, five car-charging stations and the possibility to deliver energy to the grid. Best of all, it has two lithium-polymer storage units, with a total capacity of 100kW.

According to an article on the KPBS site, the energy storage element is a first for this type of project. And the installation has so impressed the University of California in San Diego that it is considering building a similar power hub on campus.

Graphene research excites investor

Graphene is making an impact beyond the lab and into the boardroom, it seems. Graphite mining company Focus Graphite has reached an agreement to develop next-generation rechargeable batteries with Hydro-Quebec’s Reseach Institute, reports Proactive Investors UK.

The three-year research and development deal will actually be between the Institute and Focus’s privately-held joint venture Grafoid, with the eventual objective of producing rechargeable batteries based on graphene and lithium iron phosphate materials.

US ups spending on energy storage

Steven Chu, President Obama’s Energy Secretary, has been making the case for a modest 2.3% increase in the renewables investment, reportsRenewables Biz. This would bring the total spend to USD$27 billion, of which $60 million has been earmarked for researching and expanding the uses of energy storage systems. The money would be in addition to $185 million given to 16 different storage projects via the 2009 stimulus plan.

Is this sort of spending a good deal for the US taxpayer? Although not directly related to energy storage, some Department of Energy figures, as reported in GreenTech Media, suggest it is; the Government says every tax dollar invested in solar projects attracts 20 more in private money. If true, then surely this is the sort of market distortion most of us can live with.

Vanadium chief backs energy storage

Cynics might say a story that can be boiled down to “Man who runs huge vanadium mine says vanadium is the key to energy storage” is not really news, but we beg to differ. True, Ron MacDonald, executive chairman of American Vanadium, which owns the only vanadium mine in North America,  sees a big opportunity in supplying the market with vanadium-flow batteries.

But in a fascinating interview (below) conducted byMining.com he also highlights the overall importance of energy storage as an essential component to the renewables mix, and quotes a figure of between USD$400 billion and a $1 trillion of global investment predicted for in energy storage between now and 2021.

In fact, from our point of view the interview is yet another sign that understanding of the issues surrounding our sector is expanding rapidly, and that can only be a good sign for the future.