Battery technology in spotlight as clean energy debate continues

Battery technology in spotlight as clean energy debate continues

Summary: BOSTON - A recurring theme this week at the EmTech@MIT conference here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the role that storage technology and batteries will play in the future of energy. There is wide consensus, of course, that clean sources such as wind and solar -- which are also highly intermittent -- simply aren't viable in the absence of good grid-scale battery options.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Storage
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BOSTON - A recurring theme this week at the EmTech@MIT conference here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the role that storage technology and batteries will play in the future of energy. There is wide consensus, of course, that clean sources such as wind and solar -- which are also highly intermittent -- simply aren't viable in the absence of good grid-scale battery options.

One of the innovative start-ups featured at the conference, Seeo, is working on technology to make batteries safer and longer-lasting. The focus of the research, borne out of cofounder Hany Eitouni's project at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, is replacing the electrolyte used in conventional lithium-ion batteries with a solid polymer that has two main benefits: first, it is less flammable than existing batteries, and second, it holds the charge for a longer time. Seeo is eying grid applications for its product, which is due out in 2011. Mainly, the batteries would help with balancing grid supply and demand.

Eitouni says his company's technology could help bring storage technology down to around $300 per kilowatt-hour, since most of the costs related to battery development currently are related to the materials they contain.

There are a number of companies working on batteries for this purpose (more on one in a minute), but first I want to share some perspective on battery technology from an energy panel during the EmTech event. That panel was composed of two researchers from the hydorcarbon energy world (Shell and Exxon) as well an MIT scientist.

Jose Bravo, chief scientist for Shell Global Solutions, says the management of electricity supply via batteries offers compelling ways to help improve the efficiency of our existing system. But John Reilly, associate director for research with the joint program on the science and policy of global change at MIT, finds the idea that there will be grid-scale batteries "hard to imagine." Like Bravo, he sees batteries playing a role in peak shaving and for balancing supply.

For an idea about how this might work, consider a project spearheaded by International Battery, which is making large-format lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, and Princeton Power Systems, which makes a large-scale solar generation system. Under the deal, the two companies are installing a $1.5 million solar generation system at the Princeton Power headquarters that will include an energy storage system from International Battery capable of storing up to 1 megawatt of capacity. The system is supposed to come on line in the fourth quarter.

The demonstration project will be used to power the Princeton Power headquarters, offsetting a portion of its electricity consumption and also producing Solar Renewable Energy Certifications (RECs). The development got some funded from the New Jersey Clean Energy Manufacturers Fund.

Darren Hammell, CEO of Princeton Power, says the storage technology from International Battery will be instrumental in helping with peak shaving applications. One reason the two are getting together for this test is because they are refining integrated clean energy solutions based on their complementary technologies. The combined technologies can help with "solar smoothing," according to Princeton Power executives.

The big pitch for International Battery's offerings is that they are large format and help reduce the amount of individual cells used for storage, according to the company's CEO Ake Almgren. Battery storage is more efficient than diesel generators as a back-up option because diesel generators don't perform as well when they operate at fluctuating or variable speeds, according to Almgren.

Topics: Hardware, Storage

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  • In the Thames estuary

    and on the Essex and Kent coasts, there is insufficient wind for the wind turbines for periods of two or three weeks at a time. Batteries clearly don't provide a solution for this problem.
    peter_erskine@...