Artificial intelligence and robots are a hot topic of discussion, especially in the context of automation and job loss for humans. But they are also helping humans with a lot of jobs, including battery research.
The development of bigger and better batteries has somewhat suddenly become a top priority for energy researchers as the world moved in a renewable energy direction. Solar and wind—the most abundantly publicized forms of renewable energy—require storage facilities to become truly competitive with the fossil fuels they are replacing.
Then there are electric vehicles, which many consider the spearhead of the energy revolution as a sizeable chunk of global oil demand is actually demand for transportation fuels. The mass adoption of EVs could remove millions in barrels from daily oil demand and reduce global emissions substantially.
No wonder then that labs all over the world are working on batteries: bigger batteries, more efficient batteries, and last but not least, cheaper batteries. Cost is still an issue for both EV batteries—and EV prices as a consequence—and for battery storage for solar and wind farms. And now, researchers are using artificial intelligence to help them with the task.
Scientists from the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, a division of the Department of Energy, are using computational screening and robots to develop a new generation of batteries that may some day replace the dominant lithium-ion technology, Jeff McMahon wrote in an article for Forbes recently.
JCESR researcher's focus is on energy storage for the grid and, more specifically, an organic flow battery that, according to JCESR Director George Crabtree, could be more efficient and cheaper than lithium-ion batteries because it would be made from chemical elements that are available in abundance and are therefore cheap. They only had to pick the right elements, which is where artificial intelligence and robots came in.
"There are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of candidates out there," Crabtree said earlier this month, as quoted by McMahon, at an industry event. "We just haven't found the right one yet." Related: Russia Looks To Become Leader In Hydrogen Tech
So the team used computational screening to select the best candidates for their battery by simulating hundreds of thousands of combinations of elements until they found the best molecule to use in their battery. Then they used artificial intelligence to help tick off requirements regarding properties such as solubility, stability, and multi-electron transfer, McMahon writes. Finally, to synthesize the molecules to use in the flow battery, the researchers enlisted the help of robots.
"You could then have automatic synthesis. So the laboratory, using a robot, would make the material—automatic characterization, run it through lots of machines, send that information back to the artificial-intelligence brain here to score the material," Crabtree explains. "Did it actually work? If it failed I wonder why it failed; let's try something else. So it actively learns from every cycle of this synthesis route. And this is what's coming to the fore."
European researchers are also working on organic flow batteries, aiming to produce one that will store energy at a cost of less than $0.12 (0.10 euro) per kWh per cycle, PV Magazine wrote recently. The purpose of the 40-month project is to provide a battery that is both cheap and environmentally sustainable while still providing longer duration than currently available batteries and more energy density.
Such a set of requirements may seem mutually exclusive at this point, but the research highlights the drawbacks of existing batteries and how they are interfering with governments' ambitious energy transition agenda. Cost and duration are the two big problems that need to be solved to make large-scale storage a reality and renewables the dominant form of energy generation.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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