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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Is This Finally A Real Energy Storage Breakthrough?

If you thought renewable energy was the big thing of our times, you’d be only partially right. The bigger thing is energy storage – the key to making renewable energy sustainable and reliable; the key to making it practically useful and more than a fad.

There is a truly huge race on to create cheap storage systems, and the greener they are, the better. For instance, you know quinones? These chemical compounds — pigments that are found in a variety of plants — can be used as the basis of organic molecules to make flow batteries. One team of researchers at Harvard, no less, is working on just that: an organic flow battery that is cheap, environmentally friendly, and easily scalable.

The storage system uses external tanks, which is what makes it so easy to scale up or down, for use in households or factories. It’s cheap because the organic molecules it uses are abundant and easily accessible. It’s environmentally friendly, because it uses water solutions and non-toxic chemicals.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, lead researcher Professor Michael Aziz said that the flow battery his team is working on has the potential to bring power storage costs down to $100 per kWh (currently costs are about twice this amount), which, he says, “will change the world.”

Aziz admits, however, that there are some problems with the “calendar life” of the chemicals used in the storage tanks. However, the design has been proven, and preparations are on the way to Europe for field tests that will take place next year. The tests will be conducted by utilities partnering with Italy’s Green Energy Storage, the holder of the European license for Harvard’s organic flow battery.

Some would say this is too far-fetched, and its success prospects are uncertain. That’s fair enough — so how about a flywheel? Flywheels are nothing new, they’ve been around for a quite a while, but now they are getting faster and better, it seems. Related: Why Oil Companies Must Look Beyond Oil To Survive

One Lancaster University student, for instance, Abigail Carson, is awaiting patent for her invention: a levitating flywheel the size of a soccer ball that can rotate at 144,000 revolutions per minute, versus an average for other flywheels of 66,000 rpm. This means it can charge and discharge power much faster. According to Carson, on its own, the flywheel can be used in households, but it can be scaled up for industrial uses too, by using arrays of the device. Its life span is 30 years.

These are just two instances of the directions research into energy storage is focusing on. The U.S. Department of Energy alone is spending tens of millions on projects seeking to develop cheaper and more reliable energy storage systems, and so is the European Union. In India, the energy storage systems market is expected to reach $3.32 billion in six years, and China is working actively on developing its energy storage capacity as well, seeking to curb a huge waste of energy of up to 40 percent from currently operating renewable energy systems.

McKinsey, the international consultants, have estimated, as quoted by the Telegraph, that the global market for energy storage systems will be worth $90 billion annually in 2025. Governments are undertaking decarbonization commitments on a large scale. In this context, the world of energy storage is going to get much more interesting and fast.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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