Faraday’s challenge – Electrochemical energy storage
Professor Peter Littlewood FRS, Argonne National Laboratory, USA
In 1815 Michael Faraday visited Alessandro Volta in Italy and was presented with a gift of a voltaic pile – the first battery, the first device to turn chemical energy into an electrical current. Armed with a controllable source of electricity, Faraday embarked on a series of experiments that led to the electrical dynamo and the electrical motor. His practical inventions were seized upon by Maxwell to construct the theory of electromagnetism, which itself has been the foundation of most of modern physics and technology.
However, the availability of cheap fossil fuels and the challenges of building low cost electrical storage systems gave combustion engines a century of dominance that is only now coming to an end. Battery manufacturers have announced a 6-fold increase in capacity by 2025, predominantly for electric vehicles, but also for the electricity grid. As this science-driven technology matures, the impact of cheap, clean, efficient, mobile power will echo throughout the economy.
Despite its venerable history, electrochemical technology is still immature. Electrochemistry must manipulate materials and chemical reactions on the nanoscale, yet its products are manufactured by the ton. A battery is a complex device with multiple components that is more complex than an integrated circuit, but has to be produced on scales vastly larger than a silicon fab. The fundamental components of a battery – anode, cathode, electrolyte, control system – can be chosen from a vast palette of chemistries, but the complicated interplay that makes a functioning device will emerge only after the pieces are joined together at a point very distant from the fundamental invention.
To accelerate the transition to an electrically powered sustainable economy will require mission-driven, multi-disciplinary research at scale, which is focussed on very specific major challenges, and in seamlessly translating breakthroughs into innovation and commercialisation.
Symbiotic systems for renewable energy generation and storage
Professor Alexander Slocum, Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
By collocating machines and support systems, system inputs and outputs can be shared with the potential to reduce overall system cost thereby helping to enable adoption of environmentally friendly systems. In particular, the oceans represent a vast resource (and challenge) for humanity: Offshore wind turbines can harvest wind energy, and their base structures can also serve as platforms for aquaculture systems, systems to harvest scarce minerals from seawater, and wave energy systems. Excess power from solar PV and wind turbines can feed pumped storage hydropower systems collocated with reverse osmosis plants located near the ocean to provide all the power and fresh water for many coastal regions such as Eilat/Aqaba, eastern UAE, European coastlines, Lima, Los Angeles, Morocco, and northern Iran (including Tehran) for example. And last but not least, automobiles represent a vast distributed energy storage network that could work in concert with the above and as such provide further motivation to move to an all electric fleet.
Chemical energy storage
Professor Ian Metcalfe, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Newcastle University
We will begin by defining what chemical energy storage is and how does it differs from other forms of energy storage. We will look at the thermodynamics of chemical energy storage, including chemical heat pumps, and the selection of suitable chemical processes for a range of applications. The concept of exergy will be introduced and the importance of thermodynamic reversibility discussed. We will look at overall chemical energy storage processes and show how it is important to look at material and energy balances in order to gain insight. We will study the example of methanol production from combustion flue gas as a case study. The importance of handling, distribution and energy densities of chemical energy storage media will be emphasised. Optimal strategies for energy integration using tools such as pinch technology will be discussed.
Thermal energy storage technologies in a sustainable UK energy future
Dr Christos Markides, Reader in Clean Energy Processes, Imperial College London
The empirical evidence from recent trends and decisions in the UK suggests that renewables, and (possibly) nuclear, will play an important role in delivering the national vision for a sustainable, decarbonised and secure energy system. The transition towards such a system will be associated with increased levels of generation intermittency and can benefit from increased generation flexibility and demand response. In both cases, this can be enabled by a higher penetration of energy storage technologies. Thermal energy storage can be used to store both heat (directly) and electricity (by including conversion processes), and can be employed across scales and in both distributed and centralised applications. Following an overview of thermal-energy storage options, this talk will delve briefly into interesting details of their implementation in a selection of diverse applications, ranging from small-scale distributed thermal-energy storage in homes, buildings and district heating/cooling networks, to large-scale renewable-electricity storage as well as thermal-energy storage as a means of increasing the flexibility of power stations. Arising opportunities and challenges will be highlighted.