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Gaurav Agnihotri

Gaurav Agnihotri

Gaurav Agnihotri, a Mechanical engineer and an MBA -Marketing from ICFAI (Institute of Chartered Financial Accountants), Mumbai, is a result oriented and a business focused…

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Nature Provides Novel Solution To Energy Storage Problem

Nature Provides Novel Solution To Energy Storage Problem

An effective energy storage technology is turning out to be the Holy Grail for the renewables sector as the world is slowly but steadily embracing clean energy in favor of fossil fuels.

The biggest challenge for renewables is to tackle intermittency issues in power generation, as modern grids can only handle less than half of total electricity generation from renewables before requiring any further modifications.

There have been a few high profile entries in the energy storage market, including Tesla whose Powerwall series offers some degree of independence from utility grids in addition to being an emergency backup system.

The ‘power-to-gas’ system is another storage technology that converts electricity into gaseous energy and is already used commercially by Audi in Germany. Then we have Supercapacitors that can withstand millions of charge-discharge cycles without losing their capability to store energy. With new storage technologies on the horizon, a question arises: how will the energy storage market evolve in the coming few years? Related: The Best Play In Solar Right Now

Does nature hold the key to the future energy storage?

A recent report in The Journal of Applied Physics stated that cold materials could melt even faster if heat passes through them like branches in a tree. The process of melting increases if the branch architecture evolves over the course of time.

This process can play a major part in improving ‘Phase change energy storage systems’ as it would result in a more efficient flow of energy from renewables, especially solar and wind energy. These kinds of systems are capable of storing and releasing a huge amount of thermal energy while undergoing a phase change like freezing or melting at a steady temperature.

This concept is based on ‘Constructal Law’, a law of physics which states that any particular flow system in the nature can only survive in the long run if it evolves, by allowing easier access to the currents passing through it, much like a river changing its course in order to avoid any incoming obstructions.

“There is organization happening naturally all around us, and the Constructal Law is the physics principle that underpins it, what’s left is to be wise and to rely on the principle to fast-forward the design of technology," said Adrian Bejan of Duke University, North Carolina.  Related: Could $12 Trillion Trigger A Renewables Revolution?

BranchStructure

A flow from one point to another resembles a tree-like branch structure

Image Source: MindMedley 

Is Constructal law the answer that energy storage industry is looking for? Can this law be applied to improve the current Phase change energy storage system? Adrian Bejan and his colleagues from the Universite de Toulouse in France and Duke University have performed extensive practical research into the application of this law.

It might be possible in future that energy storage evolves where a building or a residential house can absorb the natural heat in daytime and release it during the night through the phase change energy storage system. The system can be also applied in solar power installations for storing excess energy in an efficient way or storing the energy in a vehicle. "The traditional architecture is to embed a heating and cooling coil in the phase change material, but our research shows that what happens naturally is also the best way to spread the heat into the volume: it is a dendritic structure, like a hand with many fingers," said Bejan. Related: Investors Should Prepare For The Long Infrastructure Boom

Can we apply ‘Constructal Law’ to the overall energy storage industry?

If we look closely at the ‘Constructal Law’, we find that it represents a natural design or pattern which evolves over the course of time and provides easy access to the currents that flow through it. In short, the process of evolution never stops.

A recent study done by Lux Research indicates that the energy storage market could grow from $32 billion in 2014 to about $50 billion by 2020.

EnergyStorageMarket

Image Source: Lux Research

The report goes on to state that an ‘evolution’ in the energy storage market would result in micro hybrids overtaking internal combustion engines by year 2020. This could market a pivotal moment in the history of both power generation and urban transportation should the technology achieve widespread use.

By Gaurav Agnihotri for Oilprice.com

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  • Adrian Bejan on June 29 2015 said:
    Dear Mr. Agnihotri,

    Congratulations on this very interesting article about our energy future and the Constructal Law!

    I would like to send you a relevant constructal-law study, and for this I need your email address. Please send me an email at

    Thank you very much,

    Adrian Bejan
    Duke University
  • Jim Baird on June 29 2015 said:
    Nature is storing over 90 percent of the heat of global warming in the ocean. Since warm water rises most of this is in the upper 700 meters of seas that average over 4200 meters in depth. Movement of this heat into deeper water, using phases changes of a working fluid, can convert about 5% of this heat to productive energy. Estimates are we can get about 14 terawatts from the ocean in this manner, which is what is currently derived from fossil fuels. At lease 20 times more heat has to be moved into the abyss to produce this energy but heat movement into the deep is what produced the warming hiatus the previous 16 years.

    Nature converts surface heat to mechanical energy in the form of tropical storms. These in turn move heat towards the poles where it melts the icecaps. This process replicates this conversion in smaller, 1 gigawatt, sized chunks, which short circuits heat movement towards the poles. The thermal coefficient of sea water is also half that of the tropical surface at a depth of 1000 meters therefore sea level rise is reduce this way as well.

    To get ocean derived energy to shore requires the conversion of electricity to an energy carrier like hydrogen, which is also a water carrier. Fourteen TW of power converted to hydrogen would deliver 600 gallons of water for every person on the planet every year.

    Since this post is on oilprice.com, the movement of surface heat into the deep this way is the best way to insure atmospheric temperatures remain below 2C as we either transition away from oil or run out of resources that can be economically produced.
  • Gaurav Agnihotri on June 29 2015 said:
    Dear Sir,

    Thank you for reading the article and your valuable comment. I am sending you an email right away.

    Best Regards,

    Gaurav Agnihotri

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