What's boiling up in technology - the WEF vision - II. Batteries

MiniGrid scheme. Credit: Alternative Energy Grids

A Kansas State University engineer has made a breakthrough in rechargeable battery applications. The bottom image shows a self-standing molybdenum disulfide/graphene composite paper electrode and the top image highlights its layered structure.

Keeping on the list of WEF 2016 technologies:

2. Next generation batteries.

The focus here is on the availability of batteries that can be used to even the production of renewable energy sources with the utilisation of energy. Indeed, there have been many advances in the renewable energy area, wind and solar having the lion's share, but not as much advance has been made in ways for storing energy making it available at a later time.  

Renewable energy are discontinuous, wind blows when it blows, the Sun shines a certain number of hours per day, and clouds may greatly decrease the conversion of light into electricity, hence a solution for "storing" the energy is needed.

In Countries where the electrical grid is diffused the solution has been to upload unused power to the grid and tap the grid when power is needed. Where the grid is not available one needs a local energy storage, and batteries are the most practical solution a micro level (there are other ways like spinning giant wheels or pumping water into reservoirs for later use but these are more suitable for industrial use).

WEF notices that significant progress in batteries technologies are now coming to fruition, exploiting new materials (for battery use) like sodium, aluminium and zinc,  clustering batteries in mini grids at a village level to provide clean energy even in remote, off the grid, places.

>>> I share this vision on the exploitability of new battery technologies that are now sufficiently mature to serve as accumulators in mini grid and even in single homes (see the success of the Powerwall, Tesla home battery).

Clearly bringing energy to villages that today are off-grid is a great opportunity having a strong impact on the well being and economics of those villages. 

The evolution in battery technology probably will see a quantum leap in the next decade, through industrial application of nano-technology and single layer materials (like graphene and molybdenum disulfide). 

At the same time we will continue to see a decrease in power consumption (and need) in electronic components, in several cases bringing it below the energy scavenging thresholds (tens of nW/µW). At that point tiny batteries will be sufficient to serve as accumulator storing scavenged energy and releasing it when needed. New batteries architecture, leveraging on nano-tech to allow an unlimited number of cycles (charge-discharge) are needed and results are becoming available.

I feel that this will also have a profound impact on our world multiplying the diffusion of sensors that today is still constrained by the need to access a power source.

A further factor in the battery domain will be, in the next decade, the explosion of electric vehicles. All together they will create an amazing "volume" of energy storage and I can see some interplay with 5G in the creation of a mobile grid leveraging the "spare" energy in cars as they are parked.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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