Motley Fool readers have seen Argonne National Laboratory battery researcher Jeff Chamberlain dive into upcoming innovations for smartphones and electric cars. These markets may use the same basic lithium-ion battery chemistry today, but their unique requirements demand very different next-generation designs.
But that's not all. Chamberlain made it clear that another major battery market is primed to explode very soon -- and most people know nothing about it.
"There is something that's more difficult to describe to the consumer, and that is the electricity grid," Chamberlain said.
How do batteries fit in the grid?
As it turns out, today's power grid won't work very well in the dawning era of renewable energy. Solar cells and wind towers generate power on a very different schedule than coal-fired power plants or nuclear reactors. These differences require massive battery banks to bridge the gap between human demand and Mother Nature's uncontrollable supply.
"Our electricity grid was built a certain way, and that way is to have on-demand production," Chamberlain explained. "So as I flip my light switch on at home, there's some little knob somewhere that turns the power up. There is no buffer. It's a very interesting production cycle compared to other consumer goods. It was built a certain way, and the grid is currently changing in two different ways.
"One is, first our demand is increasing. But another is, around the world human beings are trying to get off fossil fuels and that means using solar and wind. Well, we cannot turn up the sun or wind, or turn down the sun or wind according to our energy needs. So the more those technologies penetrate the grid, the more you need energy storage. You need a buffer.
"And that is a very difficult challenge that's similar to transportation because it's cost-driven," Chamberlain said. "But it's also different from transportation because we're not limited by volume or mass like we are in vehicles. We're working on energy storage systems that are stationary."
Source: The Motley Fool
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