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One of the biggest barriers to widespread renewable energy adoption is the ability to store intermittently-generated power for use during peak need. While there are many options for energy storage, chemical batteries can be deployed most anywhere and are easily drawn on for power when needed. On the scales needed for large solar or wind turbine power plants, however, they tend to be cost-prohibitive. Research has accordingly risen to the challenge and several new industrial battery prototypes are in the works.
Scientists at Stanford University recently shared research on a new copper-based battery electrode material. The crystalline compound can be charged and discharged 40,000 times before its capacity is reduced enough to make it unusable – that’s 30 years of life with a couple cycles daily. For comparison, the lithium-ion battery common in most consumer electronics only survives a few hundred charging cycles. While Stanford’s material is only the cathode half of the cathode-anode pairing needed for a fully-functional battery, the substance’s high-voltage capacity, rapid ability to charge and discharge, and relatively cheap raw material cost make it ideal for large-scale operations.
Researchers on the East Coast have been busy, too. MIT materials chemist Donald Sadoway and his team have created an all-liquid battery. Structural degradation of electrodes is what typically causes a battery to fail. By using liquid metals as the cathode and anode and a molten salt as the electrolyte, this new battery vastly reduces internal wear which grants greatly extended life. The liquid nature also allows huge amounts of electricity to be absorbed quickly, making this battery ideal for use with renewable energy power plants.
Materials science still has a way to go before all clean energy needs can be met economically, but once they successfully join forces, renewable energy projects should become widely implemented. Once they do, companies involved must make sure they have a clear strategy to take advantage of the opportunities.
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