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?

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, whats 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.

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.


SMART GRID Bulletin March 2017

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