Sunday, February 3, 2013

A battery of questions in the Economist this week

Vikings and batteries at the menu.
"With storage comes headaches, even for technologies as mature as lead-acid. Batteries will fail, and seldom at convenient times." demonstrated Tom Murphy in his blog "Do the Math" (1 - here).  This week, The Economist points out in an article worth reading that, nevertheless, "the search for better ways of storing energies is hotting up." (2).

These better ways come from the Joint Centre for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) headed by Illinois' Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) near Chicago. In particular, Dr Kris Pupek - interviewed in this article - are working on them. The task is to improve the lithium-ion battery which "powers almost everything from e-book readers to watches", via computers. The problem is this kind of battery overheats and burns...sometimes. One of the alternatives to lithium-ion is lithium-air with a higher energy density: a critical parameter as, nowadays for electric cars, petrol packs six times more energy in a kilogram compared to the amount of energy a battery can reach. The article recalls that lithium-air batteries are less safe than lithium-ion ones unfortunately.
To improve safety, magnesium or aluminium batteries can be the best candidates allowing higher energy densities. After this very complete explanation concerning the conventional batteries, the article treats too quickly the case of the flow batteries and the endeavours to overcome the limitation of aqueous electrolytes with organic ones.
Will they succeed in creating a battery-driven world ? If the technology is still not here, the money is here: The Economist recalls that JCESR has received a grant of $120m from the Department of Energy. (DOE).

Reference :
(1) : "Do the Math" here
(2) : "Battery Included ?", The Economist, February 2nd 2012, page 63

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