SEATTLE, Washington – According to a recent paper published in Nature, Harvard scientists are pioneering a new type of organic battery that could transform the way we store energy.
The new technology promises to no longer be reliant on metallic compounds and to be comparatively inexpensive, opening the doors for broad, international implementation. Furthermore, the inexpensive and organic batteries would seem to be particularly well suited for the developing world.
As of 2010, nearly 2.5 billion people had either no electricity or limited and unreliable access to it. This is partly due to a lack of infrastructure, and partly due to a dearth of affordable, reliable and clean power sources.
The carbon-based battery material developed at Harvard is capable of storing twice the amount of energy per molecule than conventional methods.
This breakthrough would appear to be particularly advantageous when used in conjunction with renewable energies such as wind and solar power in order to accommodate for their inherent inadequacies—namely that they only work when the sun shines or the wind blows. The added storage capacity of the battery would allow for renewables to store vastly larger amounts of energy when active, thus mitigating the loss during cloudy or windless days.
Additionally, as the developing world requires clean power solutions, pairing the two technologies seems remarkably straightforward. Not only would this meet the needs of national energy strategies, it could also be practical on the individual or community level.
Addressing the possibility of commercial use, the co-author, Michael Marshak said, “Imagine a device the size of a home heating-oil tank sitting in your basement. It would store a day’s worth of sunshine from the solar panels on the roof of your house.”
However, the research is still being preformed on a very small scale. Unless the development and commercialization is put on a fast track, it is likely that it will be nearly a decade before the technology sees widespread use.
Still, researchers remain optimistic that the battery will help wean the world off of fossil fuels. Currently, fossil fuels are used disproportionately by the developing world because they are inexpensive and available.
Their relationship with dirty energy is ultimately untenable because of the damage it does to the environment and to the people of these nations. For now though, Harvard’s new battery provides some hope that change may be on its way.
– Chase Colton
Sources: Harvard Gazette , NYT , Nature , The Economist , Institute for Energy Research
Photo: Daily Herald