Batteries of the Future

Better batteries are needed for several modern needs. All of us would like to be able to run our mobile phones, laptops, tablets, cordless power tools, electric cars, and a host of other electric appliances and vehicles for longer periods of time between charging. But better batteries will be particularly crucial for the future.

Some are talking about using batteries to back up the entire power grid. But we know that batteries will probably never be able to back up the entire power grid. In the case of micro-grids, new, scalable battery systems should allow for a “black start,” even when the larger power grid has gone down. Battery packs already on the market can let you “back up” your home electrical power for a few days, in case of power outage. They are expensive, but available.

Where Will Better Batteries of the Future Come From?

Lithium-ion technology has huge momentum, which means it’s likely to form the backbone of our emerging energy-control infrastructure for some time. But it is not without problems. Lithium burns hotly, so batteries that contain it can be a fire hazard if their cells get overcharged. In 2006, Sony recalled 6 million laptop batteries that had been spontaneously combusting. In January 2013, batteries in one of Boeing’s next generation Dreamliner aircraft caught fire while the craft was sitting empty at Boston’s Logan Airport. Boeing has since updated its software, and modern systems generally have the problem under control – but a technology that requires tight oversight to avoid catching fire is hardly ideal.

Other problems are less easily fixed. Lithium-ion batteries are approaching fundamental electrochemical limits on the density of energy they can store, while their cost is nearing its floor, too – something particularly problematic for larger-scale applications. “You might get it down by 30 per cent, but you’re not going to get more than that,” says Crabtree. “If you really want electric cars to compete with gasoline, you’re going to need the next generation of batteries.”

That means finding a new chemical basis for them, says Rachid Yazami of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Engineers have achieved incredible advances with lithium-ion batteries, he says – but not enough to meet increasing demands. “People want to charge electric cars very fast, and they want to run them for 500 miles,” he says.

Lithium makes such an obvious choice for storing a lot of energy in a low mass that many alternative battery designs start off with the element, too. One is a lithium-sulphur battery that stores and releases energy by forming and breaking chemical bonds, instead of slotting ions into structural gaps. These batteries are less prone to catching fire, and although they’re not yet commercially available, they have demonstrated energy densities three times those of the best lithium-ion batteries. __ __ via

Where the Money is Going Source:  New Scientist

Where the Money is Going
Source: New Scientist

The Tesla Powerwall battery pack is a lithium ion battery meant to provide power backup for homes and small businesses. It is a step in the right direction.

“Flow cell batteries” are a different approach to battery storage. They are quite expensive now, but due to their scalable nature are likely to be improved, and find many uses. They will likely provide power backup for isolated communities, island grids, and other “micro-grid” applications. More at the following link:

One can compare the energies available from power sources, by comparing energy densities. The table at this link allows you to compare different batteries, and other energy sources. The table below compares energy sources, before storage.

Energy Density Comparison from Wikipedia Fusion, Fission Orders of Magnitude Better than Chemical and Other Energy Sources

Energy Density Comparisons
Fusion, Fission Orders of Magnitude Better than Chemical and Other Energy Sources

The energy densities below compare both batteries and primary energy sources. Keep in mind that hydrogen gas requires significant energy input for production, making it much less desirable overall.
Energy Density Graphic Wikipedia

Energy Density Graphic

The sources below provide a deeper entry into the topic of large-scale energy storage.

Massive Energy Storage — IEEE Special Issue

EESAT Energy Storage Technical Conference in Portland, OR, 21 – 25 September, 2015

US DOE/EPRI 2013 Electricity Storage Handbook PDF 21.5 MB

Fuel Cells, Another Alternative

Fuel Cells are more like a generator, in that they “consume” fuel in the production of electricity.

Fuel cells that utilise methanol, ethanol, or hydrocarbon fuels, are generally more economical to operate than fuel cells that must use pure hydrogen — an inferior fuel in many ways.

Residential fuel cells that operate on propane are becoming more popular, and are far more practical than the old hydrogen gas fuel cells.

Fuel cells are quite scalable, and find uses in industry, in isolated communities, and for municipal backup systems.

But fuel cells are not “storage batteries” as a rule, and it is good to keep the distinction in mind when planning your power backup system.

Batteries, energy storage systems, and power generation systems of the future will be critical for the human enterprise — and abundant, expansive, and multi-faceted future.

While better batteries are never likely to make big wind or big solar energy workable for large power grids, they should make micro-grids more viable, and they will make a host of other activities and enterprises more pleasant and workable.

Update: Samsung, MIT collaborate on dynamite new solid state battery

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2 Responses to Batteries of the Future

  1. Will Brown says:

    I’m surprised this betavoltaics battery research from last year out of the University of Missouri didn’t receive at least a promising mention:

    See also here for well informed commentary:

    50%+ efficiency from an energy source having a half-life of 28 years?

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