It is widely agreed that the key to moving completely away from fossil fuels at least with the current commercially available renewable energy technology is our ability to store energy. Many of these technologies can only produce electricity under certain conditions. Solar PV and solar thermal all require the sun to be shining while wind power requires the wind to be blowing as consistently as possible.
Biofuel and biogas offer a very stable form of energy because they are actually energy storage devices. The chemical energy is stored in the biofuel until it is needed. Solar thermal technologies have a bit of an advantage when it comes to storing energy as it is relatively easy to store the heat that is produced in a medium like salt or insulated tanks before using it to make electricity when it is needed.
Storing electricity, however, this is much more difficult for us to do. Chemical batteries are used today to store the energy as a potential chemical reaction that produces current on demand. However, the charge is limited and the device must be recharged using electricity to drive the chemical reaction in the reverse direction.
Hydrogen fuel cells which typically use hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity while recombining to make water. We can store the hydrogen and oxygen easily enough but it must be at high pressures and low temperatures to allow sufficient energy density to be worth the effort. No-one really wants to be sitting on a 10,000 psi tank of hydrogen for their drive to work or worse yet have to fill the tank.
But what if we could make a different type of battery where the electric charge was given to a pumpable liquid that is added to the battery casing much like we fill our car today? Solar and wind power systems could charge this fluid as it is stored in a container train car and transported to filling stations. For consumers, we would not really notice a difference except that we could recharge this fluid at home from our home solar power system.
This would indeed be a game changer that would likely quickly spell the end for the need for fossil fuels.
Most of us learned about the three forms of matter (Solid, liquid, gas ) and their physical properties in elementary school. In fact, our technological world is defined by these properties. When two of these are combined, a new form of matter with exceptional properties, the nanofluid, is created.
John is CEO and co-founder of Influit Energy and a research scientist with IIT for over 13 years. He has extensive experience in designing complex scientific equipment for the characterization of energy-related materials using synchrotron x-rays.
Most recently John was Co-PI on a $3.5 million ARPA-e funded research project to engineer a flow battery to meet transportation needs. Here is his most recent Ted Talk on the subject.
There are several companies working on making this concept a commercial success.
A flow battery, or redox flow battery (after reduction-oxidation), is a type of electrochemical cell where chemical energy is provided by two chemical components dissolved in liquids contained within the system and separated by a membrane.Ion exchange (accompanied by a flow of electric current) occurs through the membrane while both liquids circulate in their own respective space.
Cell voltage is chemically determined by the Nernst equation and ranges, in practical applications, from 1.0 to 2.2 volts.
A flow battery may be used like a fuel cell (where the spent fuel is extracted and new fuel is added to the system) or like a rechargeable battery (where an electric power source drives the regeneration of the fuel). While it has technical advantages over conventional rechargeables, such as potentially separable liquid tanks and near unlimited longevity, current implementations are comparatively less powerful and require more sophisticated electronics.
ARPA-E or the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is a United States government agency tasked with promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies. It is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency ( DARPA ).
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