US funds thermochemical storage research

In a move that may have implications for the current trend towards molten salt storage in concentrated solar power (CSP), the US Department of Energy (DoE) has announced a new funding opportunity for thermal energy storage.

The ‘Efficiently Leveraging Equilibrium Mechanisms for Engineering New Thermochemical Storage (CSP: ELEMENTS)’ programme will award USD$20 million to up to 24 projects for research and develop into thermochemical energy storage systems (TCES) to be applied to CSP technology.

As the DoE points out, TCES technologies have the potential to store energy at densities over 23 times greater than that of existing sensible energy storage technologies, principally molten salt. There are a number of preconditions if you’re interested in the funding, however. Any TCES considered will need a minimum of six hours of thermal storage, to be used in utility-scale CSP plants.

Additionally, the TCES system must validate a cost below $15 per kWh-thermal and should operate at temperatures above 650ºC. So the DoE is sensibly trying to both raise temperatures and lower costs in CSP TCES, with the eventual goal of providing a levelised cost of energy of $0.06 per kWh, without subsidies.

JCESR touts new flow battery design

Formed at the end of last year, the US Department of Energy (DoE) Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) is already claiming its first research triumph. Supported by the JCESR project, researchers from the US DoE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have designed a new lithium/polysulfide (Li/PS) semi-liquid flow battery for large-scale energy storage.

Still at a very early stage, the new battery is of interest as it simplifies the traditional flow battery model by dispensing with highly expensive vanadium as an electrolyte. Additionally, it does not require a membrane, which forms an essential part of other designs.

Although it remains to be seen if the JCESR can live up to its stated 5x5x5 goal (batteries that are five times more powerful and five times cheaper within five years), its simplification of a technology that is already causing a lot of excitement in the industry is promising to say the least.

SMi stages energy storage conference

SMi’s second annual Distributed Energy Storage conference takes place on 17 and 18 June 2013 in London. It is planned to feature senior UK decision makers from an array of utilities at the forefront of developments in distributed energy storage technology, including SSE, EDF Energy, E.ON, Northern Powergrid, ESB, UK Power Networks and others.

Microbattery to beat supercapacitors?

A team from the University of Illinois, USA, claims to have created a lithium-ion microbattery with a power density of up to 7.4 mW cm−2 μm−1. The authors say is equal to or better than today’s top supercapacitors and 2,000 times higher than any other microbattery.

“The battery micro-architecture affords trade-offs between power and energy density that result in a high-performance power source, and which is scalable to larger areas,” reports the team in Nature Communications this week.

The news immediately follows research by a team from the University of California in Los Angeles, reported in Nature Materials, into the virtues of niobium oxide as a component for supercapacitors. The team has used a process called intercalation pseudocapacitance so that “high levels of charge storage are achieved within short periods of time because there are no limitations from solid-state diffusion.”

Michigan Tech finds better capacitor

A new process for growing forests of manganese dioxide nano-rods may lead to the next generation of high-performance capacitors, according to researchers at Michigan Technological University. Dennis Desheng Meng’s research group has developed a technique to grow manganese dioxide nano-rods that minimises internal resistance, allowing the capacitor to charge and discharge repeatedly without wearing out.

Even after Meng’s group recharged its capacitor more than 2,000 times, it was still able to regain over 90% of its original charge.

Energy storage to grow 18% in US

TechNavio believes energy storage will have an annual compound growth rate of more than 18% in the US between 2012 and 2016, according to a report out last month. The study says the top vendors to watch are Abengoa Solar, Areva Solar, GE Energy and Pratt and Whitney, which makes it sound a lot like TechNavio’s recent analysis of the molten salt energy storage market.

Grid battery market at $1.2bn in 2013

Batteries will “play a critical role in the future of electricity supply” according to a Visiongain analysis which indicates the grid-scale battery storage market will reach USD$1.2bn in 2013. The authors of the Grid Scale Battery Storage Market report said: “Large-scale battery storage remains an expensive method of improving efficiencies in the grid, and as such incentives or subsidies remain essential to the market.

“Ownership of storage capacity by transmission and distribution companies is vague in many countries and amendments to this would enable them to own energy storage assets, providing more efficient electricity transmission.”

Nevertheless, they continued: “While utilities remain slow on storage uptake, the growing penetration of renewable energy forces the requirement of energy storage to smooth out intermittency in generation.”

Time to take hydrogen seriously?

Long touted as the magic bullet for a renewable-powered economy, hydrogen may finally be coming into its own as an energy storage currency. Recently, Canadian researchers have said they have developed catalysts that could vastly increase the viability of hydrogen production by electrolysis.

And now comes news from a Virginia Tech research team suggesting a new enzyme combination will allow hydrogen to be produced from plant matter in a way that “releases almost no greenhouse gases and does not require costly or heavy metals.”

YH Percival Zhang and his team have succeeded in using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory. Zhang’s method can be performed using any source of biomass.

Jonathan Mielenz, group leader of the bioscience and technology biosciences division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said this discovery has the potential to have a major impact on alternative energy production. “The key to this exciting development is that Zhang is using the second most prevalent sugar in plants to produce this hydrogen,” he said.

“This amounts to a significant additional benefit to hydrogen production and it reduces the overall cost of producing hydrogen from biomass.”

This hydrogen could of course be used at the point of production or stored for later use, either through burning directly or in fuel cells.