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Government Power Hardware Technology

DOE Wants 5X Improvement In Batteries In 5 Years 305

dcblogs writes "The U.S. Dept. of Energy has set a goal to develop battery and energy storage technologies that are five times more powerful and five times cheaper within five years. DOE is creating a new center at Argonne National Laboratory, at a cost of $120 million over five years, that's intended to reproduce development environments that were successfully used by Bell Laboratories and World War II's Manhattan Project. 'When you had to deliver the goods very, very quickly, you needed to put the best scientists next to the best engineers across disciplines to get very focused,' said U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, on Friday. The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research isn't designed to seek incremental improvements in existing technologies. This technology hub, according to DOE's solicitation (PDF), 'should foster new energy storage designs that begin with a "clean sheet of paper" — overcoming current manufacturing limitations through innovation to reduce complexity and cost.' Other research labs, universities and private companies are participating in the effort."
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DOE Wants 5X Improvement In Batteries In 5 Years

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  • Re:Wrong direction (Score:5, Informative)

    by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:13PM (#42149473)

    Didn't the Apollo program bring us the 8-bit microprocessor?

    No, it didn't. Intel did in 1971 with the 8008.

  • by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:42PM (#42149801) Homepage

    The idea of molten salt batteries [wikipedia.org] sounds quite intriguing to me, especially for bulk utility level energy storage. In this TED talk [ted.com], MIT professor Donald Sadoway details his designs and describes the models he has already built. In short, the idea is to have two liquid metals, one less dense and one more dense. In the middle is a layer of molten salt. The less dense molten metal floats on the top. In the middle is the molten salt, and at the bottom is the more dense molten metal. The molten salt acts as the electrolyte in the cell, and the two different metals pass electrons around due to their different electron affinities.

    When building these cells, they would use common cheap materials, so that the cost of this type of battery would be trivial compared with the amount of energy it can store. The fact that the cell is molten is actually an advantage. We spend huge effort in our current electrochemical cells trying to keep them cool. This type of cell would thrive on heat...indeed the energy used in charging and discharging it would help keep the metals and the salt molten.

    Clearly this type of cell would not be used to power your laptop or cellphone directly, but it could be used to store energy from solar panels on your rooftop, or to store energy from large solar power plants for use in the night. As always, I am sure there are bugs to work out, but really, this sounds incredibly promising.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday November 30, 2012 @08:03PM (#42150079)

    The free market should solve this problem ...

    Free markets can solve many problems, but they don't solve everything. There are plenty of examples of market failures [wikipedia.org], and this is one of them. If someone invents a battery that is 5x cheaper and better, they will make a lot of money. But the benefits to society at large will be MUCH larger. We will save hundreds of billions on oil we will no longer need to import, hundreds of billions more on defense spending cuts since we no longer have to protect oil shipping lanes, many billions more from time-shifting baseload electricity, and even more billions from reduced AGW. But very few of these savings will flow into the pocket of the innovator. So government intervention in the market is justified.

    But there are still important free market principles that can be applied here. If the government just hands out grant money, little is likely to be achieved. It is much better to set this up as a competition, and offer specific monetary prizes for meeting certain milestones. Look at the Ansari X-Prize and the DARPA Grand Challange as models. They were able to accomplish a lot by drawing in diverse talents and rewarding success.

  • Re:Wrong direction (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Friday November 30, 2012 @08:23PM (#42150261) Homepage

    Didn't the Apollo program bring us the 8-bit microprocessor?,

    Nope. Not even the 4-bit.

    The Apollo guidance computer didn't use a microprocessor at all. It was built from thousands of individual RTL 3-imput NOR gates:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_Guidance_Computer [wikipedia.org]

  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Friday November 30, 2012 @09:20PM (#42150875) Homepage

    We need portable energy, and molten anything is not an answer.

    We need portable energy, but we also need cheap bulk energy storage.

    There are lots of wind farms and solar farms out there, and the times they produce power don't always correspond with the times power is needed. This results in excess power being wasted, and also in power not being available sometimes when it is required (e.g. at night or when the wind stops).

    If we had an economic way to store lots of power, we could supplement these places with battery banks to temporarily store a few hours (or days) worth of excess power, and presto -- they'd become as reliable as coal or nuclear plants. That would make renewable energy much more usable.

Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don't recognize them.