Energy storage prêt-à-porter

It seems the number one investor in US energy storage is not Bill Gates or Vinod Khosla but the Pentagon. Everything from solar-powered tents to electric vehicles and night-sights seem to be packed with the latest energy storage tech. And it appears the US is not the only country that it is putting its military might behind rechargeable batteries.

Canadian company Panacis will receive around USD$613,500 to accelerate the commercialisation of the Soldier Sharepack, a wearable energy storage system, from the Canadian government, with a further $1.2 million injection of venture capital. The system is both a lithium-ion battery and an energy management device.

It uses flexible energy sharing, harvesting and scavenging techniques to allow energy from a user’s movement, plus renewable sources such as solar, to supplement the battery charge and thus provide reliable power.

Tesla makes profit, offers hire cars

After much controversy and bad press, it’s great to see not one but two pieces of good news about the Californian electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors. First off, the company has said it would be reporting a first-quarter profit, which sent shares up 16% this week.

This will be the first time the luxury electric-car maker has dipped into the black and must surely help embolden the burgeoning electric vehicle sector still further. But perhaps the more significant item of news is Tesla’s plan, along with the Wells Fargo bank, to offer 10% down financing on the purchase of the Model S.

Taking both the financing deal and the saving from using electricity instead of gasoline, depreciation benefits and other factors, the true net out-of-pocket cost to own a mid-range Model S drops to less than USD$500 per month, says the company. And because most US states will cover the 10% down-payment with incentives, the monthly $500 is all you should have to pay.

What’s more, after 36 months you will have the right to sell your Model S to Tesla for the same residual value percentage as a Mercedes S Class, if you wish. This means you can essentially decide to rent or buy your electric vehicle.

Widely described in the media as a “game changer”, the financing package, plus Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s personal guarantee on the resale value, could be just the jump-start to mass adoption and the mainstreaming of electric vehicles the industry has been praying for.

Giant hydro project announced

A massive pumped hydro energy storage project proposed for lakes around the Niagara Falls would store a staggering 10GW, making it the planet’s largest pumped hydro site with four times the capacity of China’s Huizhou Pumped Storage Power Station, the current world number one.

Currently just a gleam in the eye of cleantech entrepreneur Roger Faulkner, the proposed Isthmus of Niagara project has the huge advantage that it would not need any land to be flooded as it relies on the 99.4m average height difference between Lakes Ontario and Eerie. The idea would be to connect these two huge bodies of water with a cana, rather than building two enormous artificial reservoirs.

Faulkner has factored in a 30cm change in the water level of the lakes between charging and discharging, which he insists is less than the lakes’ natural seasonal variation. He makes the case for his proposal having a lower environmental impact than traditional pumped hydro energy storage projects but acknowledges that it would be an enormous engineering project, needing a vast amount of political will in order to see it through to completion.

Ioxus brings new modules to market

Ioxus, a manufacturer of premium performance ultracapacitor technology for transportation, alternative energy, medical, industrial and consumer product markets, has unveiled three new modules. The iMODTM 16V/500F, 80V/15F and 48V/165F all deliver higher power and energy densities as compared with competitive products, says the company.

Notably, the iMODTM 16V/500F provides power density up to 95% greater than modules currently on the market. “We’re seeing global customers in the automotive, wind energy, industrial and hybrid bus sectors strive for greater efficiency and higher performance with their systems, making the need for flexible and powerful products more important than ever,” said Mark McGough, chief executive.

Navitas Systems Becomes a JCSER Affiliate

Navitas Systems, a leading provider of energy-enabled system solutions and energy storage products for commercial, industrial and government agency customers, has announced its Advanced Solutions Group (ASG) has become affiliated with the US Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR).

The Navitas ASG includes the former A123 Systems Advanced Research and Development team, A123 Government Solutions group, and selected engineers from the A123 Automotive Engineering Team.

Navitas announced in January that it had finalised its acquisition of substantially all of the assets of A123 Systems’ former Ann Arbor, Michigan-based government business, including US military contracts.

This acquisition enabled Navitas to keep all the scientists and engineers necessary to develop and commercialise nanophosphate lithium-ion battery chemistry and other advanced battery technologies being developed for military and government applications.

“We’re delighted to be associated with our neighbour JCESR,” said Alan ElShafei, Navitas Systems chairman and founder.

“Using the brainpower of our combined scientific and engineering teams, Navitas and JCESR will have the opportunity to collaborate to push the envelope on energy storage technology R&D.

“We’re absolutely committed to helping build the next generation of advanced battery technologies here in the US.”

Argonne and CalBattery strike deal

The US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, located outside of Chicago, and California Lithium Battery (CalBattery), a Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator portfolio company, have signed a licensing agreement for an Argonne-developed, silicon-graphene composite anode material for high-energy lithium batteries.

CalBattery plans to move forward rapidly in the commercial scale-up and production of the novel composite anode material, which tests show triples the energy capacity of the state-of-the-art graphite anode, the Argonne National Laboratory says.

CalBattery has worked with Argonne for more than a year under a Work for Others agreement to develop the technology under the Startup America programme, which is part of a White House initiative to inspire and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship.

Solar cash shifts to energy storage

Disillusioned Silicon Valley solar investors are switching their attention to energy storage, according to a Bloomberg report.

Khosla Ventures’ backing of LightSail Energy is cited as characteristic of current moves by venture capital investors to seek out possible breakthrough technologies in energy storage now that other clean-tech sectors are maturing and consolidating.

Pumped hydro will benefit Ontario’s grid

Toronto-based Northland Power plans to construct a USD$700m pumped hydroelectric project using the enormous hole and mountain of tailings left by an abandoned open-pit iron ore mine. Water would be pumped up from the old mine working up into a newly constructed reservoir during periods of  cheap, night-time electricity.

When demand and prices go up, the company would release the water for a 258-metre plunge to a powerhouse and generate 400MW of power, creating a waterfall five times the height of Niagara Falls, though with a fraction of the volume. The facility will also be used to store excess wind power, which in Ontario is forecast to increase from today’s 1.7GW to 7.8GW by 2018.