.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

Bingaman impressed by lab's ideas for energy storage

-A A +A
By Roger Snodgrass

A United States senator in search of solutions to national energy problems and a national laboratory looking to extend its portfolio of alternative energy programs had a meeting of minds Wednesday.Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, visited Los Alamos National Laboratory Wednesday looking for advanced energy storage technology that would enable more green energy generation, like electricity from wind and solar sources.After the meeting, Bingaman said he was very impressed with the laboratory’s potential to improve energy storage capacity.“There is a lot of potential not currently being exploited,” he said. “Storage is as important as any other aspect, like how do we produce more and how do we use it effectively?”In the quest for alternative energy with low-carbon emissions, both wind and solar energy show enormous promise, but their dependence on intermittent sources calls for a revolution in electrical energy storage systems and devices.Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio and Terry Wallace, who heads the lab’s science directorate, accompanied the senator on a visit to the Center for Integrated Nanotechnology, where a team of researchers pitched advanced forms of chemical energy storage.They described goals of storing electrical charges on surfaces in supercapacitors and as electrons in chemical bonds that might one day far surpass batteries in capacity and stability, and rival liquid fuels in their ability to provide high-density energy for portable power, transportation and the nation’s power grid.Kevin Ott, materials chemistry group leader, briefed Bingaman on the lab’s approach to chemical energy storage, noting that meeting the national needs over the next several decades will require a revolutionary, rather than an evolutionary, approach.Batteries use chemical reactants capable of generating an electrical charge; capacitors store the charge directly and supercapacitors are beginning to shrink the package needed to do that.Capacitors bring a higher and more controllable rate of discharge, as well as a longer usable lifecycle, Ott said.A problem at the moment, according to the briefing materials, is that capacitors have far lower energy densities – a fraction of what is available from other storage system, including lead acid batteries, compressed air and flywheels.But using techniques and materials now available through nanoscience research, there is a potential for a hundred-fold improvement for supercapacitors and a thousand-fold improvement for storing electrons in chemical bonds, the way plants store sunlight, Ott said.In a follow-up discussion, the managers and the senator talked about industrial partnerships and ways the federal government might be encouraged to support projects like this that bridge the science to the practical applications.“The basic science of batteries is not likely to change,” Ott said in an interview after the meeting. “We’re not as interested in incremental changes. We need to do breakthrough, high-value research that will enable future developments.”He said the laboratory fully recognizes that the nation’s future and security depends on energy.Ott is also the national program leader for the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Storage Center of Excellence at the lab, which is a part of a $45 million national program divided among three centers.He said a number of the people at the laboratory are hard at work on a full suite of energy storage issues.“Hydrogen can store a lot of energy, but it occupies a lot of volume,” Ott said. “We want to take the next step beyond and be able to take energy on and off the grid, making it ‘dispatchable,’ which means storing some of it and releasing it at a rate that makes sense for the supply side.”Offering his personal opinion, he said, “The lab has the scientific capacity to vastly improve what we’re doing in energy.”