Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Nanotechnology to Save Renewable Energy 

Despite claims that clean energy alternatives, such as wind and solar power, are the future, we currently have no good way to store and deliver energy that these sources produce. Fossil fuels now deliver over two-thirds of the Earth’s electricity, but because they are non-renewable, wind and solar look increasingly attractive, despite shortfalls in reliability and transport. Fortunately, scientists may have found a way to save solar and wind power: nanotechnology-based batteries.

The first problem that these batteries would help clean energy to overcome is its dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels. Because solar power is not generated in cloud cover or at night, and wind intensities fluctuate, backup fossil fuel-driven power plants are necessary to provide power. Advancements combining nanotechnology with batteries would allow excess energy to be stored for times of greater need and lower energy output.

Renewable energy storage is available in 2 percent of the US power grid, 10 percent of Europe’s and 15 percent of Japan’s, but most utilize an inefficient form of hydroelectric power, over which batteries would have a distinct advantage. Alternatives, such as compressed air-powered turbines, would require fossil fuels as backup power. Traditional lead acid batteries lack efficiency upon multiple rechargings, and lithium-ion batteries are too costly for large-scale implementation.

So where does that lead researchers?

According to Yi Cui, a materials scientist at Stanford University, it brings us to a novel battery based on nanoparticles. “What is exciting about this battery is its long cycle life, high power and low cost, which makes it ideal for grid-scale storage applications,” Cui says.

Like other batteries, this nanoparticle-based solution employs a cathode and anode. The crystalline copper hexacyanoferrate cathode, at a mere 50 nanometers wide, is only 20 times thicker than a DNA strand, while the carbon anode is between 5 and 10 microns wide – about 20 times thinner than a strand of human hair. More details are available online at Nature Communications.

Cui notes that the cathode and anode materials are cheap and abundant, and the technology “can be easily implemented by lithium-ion battery production facilities.” And while the batteries are too low-density for consumer electronics and electric cars, Cui claims that they could be revolutionary for grid-scale storage.

Full story at Txchnologist

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