By Jack Ward, CEO of Soltra Energy
Without doubt, the Tesla Powerwall represents a huge step forward in energy storage as it has lowered the price point of lithium-ion battery technology through mass production, based on the demand in the electric vehicle sector in which Tesla is a major player.
Now, this technology will be used to complement domestic and industrial solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and address time-of-day billing constraints, among many other applications.
The announcement that Tesla will be mass-producing lithium-ion batteries at its new Gigafactory fabrication and assembly plant has sparked numerous news stories highlighting other potential breakthrough technologies that may one day rival Tesla’s eagerly anticipated offering.
For example, researchers at an American university have unveiled a ‘solar air’ battery that integrates lithium-iodine and solar cell technologies. They say the concept may present guidelines that could be extended to other metal-redox battery systems which could herald a potential breakthrough for low-cost, grid-scale energy storage.
Scientists at the University of California have created a solar cell design that allows energy to be stored for fairly long periods. These cells, which mimic natural photosynthesis, are plastic and use polymers and nano-scale fullerenes (hollow carbon molecules) arranged in a manner that resemble ‘small bundles of uncooked spaghetti with precisely placed meatballs’ -according to a source close to the researchers.
A joint Swedish/American team has come up with ‘an elastic foam-like’ battery material that can withstand shock and stress. This nano-cellulose-based material is made from tree fibres and can pack a surface area equivalent to the size of a rugby field into a single cubic decimetre – the equivalent of one litre. Watch for this battery material to be incorporated into roofing, car bodies and even clothing.
Perhaps surprisingly, melanin, the human skin pigment or colouring is being tested for its potential in energy storage. Backed by a sizable grant from the US Department of Environmental Conservation, research is encouraging, hinting at the possibility of cheaper, safer batteries with lower environmental impact in the future.
Finally, a battery solution from left-field comes from Chinese and German scientists who have found that reed leaves might hold the key to the production of better silicon anodes (electrodes) for lithium-ion batteries. As a bonus, the reed leaves option is less complicated and expensive when compared to current anode production methods.
Low-cost stationary storage represents the ‘holy grail’ for all renewable energy protagonists. As a result there is a significant focus on achieving this goal through diverse R&D projects. Watch this space, as the next game-changer could be announced soon.