Education

The new energy storage revolution

 By Amanda Saint

As the ways in which energy is generated and distributed have undergone a revolution, so too has the thinking around energy storage. During the last Cleantech Forum in San Francisco, it was one of the hottest topics around with many predicting that 2016 will be the year of deployment for storage…

So what is the top energy storage prediction for 2016 that’s getting everyone excited? It’s the new battery from BioSolar Inc., which is expected to revolutionize the sector. Hailed as the new “super battery” it may deliver some impressive cost savings compared to other storage solutions and also enable other industries to achieve long-term pricing goals a lot faster.

But it’s not just costs where this innovative new take on a lithium-ion battery is delivering impressive advances — the breakthrough technology is set to double its storage capacity and extend its working life.

In February 2016, BioSolar filed a joint patent application with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), in the U.S., Canada, and Japan to protect the technology that underlies the company’s new super battery technology.

David Lee, CEO of BioSolar, said: “Filing this joint patent application helps protect the technological milestones achieved so far, and moves us closer to the next phase of building complete prototypes and identifying potential partners. Rarely does one technology exhibit such potential across so many energy sectors spanning solar, electric vehicles, and traditional charging applications for personal technology use. This patent ensures that we not only protect our intellectual property, but that we control future licensing efforts that may one day represent a significant source of revenue.”

The new battery from BioSolar

A battery revolution

So what’s the science behind the breakthrough and how is this exciting new development going to deliver all of these advances?

BioSolar is currently funding a sponsored research program at UCSB to further develop its super battery technology. The lead inventors of the technology are UCSB professor, Dr. Alan Heeger, who won a Nobel Prize in 2000 for the discovery and development of conductive polymers, and Dr. David Vonlanthen, a project scientist and expert in energy storage .

The research that the team is carrying out is focused on overcoming the storage capacity limitations of today’s lithium-ion batteries. The two sides of a battery, cathodes which house the positive electrodes, and anodes containing negative electrodes, work together to provide power, passing electrodes back and forth between them. The current version of lithium-ion batteries is limited by the relatively small storage capacity of the cathode compared to the anode, which has the room to store a lot more energy.

The difference with the battery that UCSB and BioSolar have designed is that it has a novel cathode that can tap into the bigger storage capacity of conventional anodes. By merging this high capacity, high power and low-cost cathode with conventional anodes, the team say that battery manufacturers will be able to create a super lithium-ion battery that can double the range of a Tesla, power an iPhone for 2 days without a recharge, and store daytime solar energy for use during the night.

The high capacity cathode the team is working on has been engineered from a polymer similar to that found in low-cost plastics used in many household items. By adapting the chemical design, the team has upped the storage power of the polymer significantly and it can now hold huge numbers of electrons compared to traditional cathodes. This means that the the new super batteries can be charged much faster, provide power for longer, and be manufactured at much lower cost.

This is especially big news for the solar energy sector as BioSolar’s invention also extends the working life of lithium-ion batteries. This will help the industry to manage costs more effectively. An important development in light of falling investments in solar in many countries.

SEE MORE: 5 strange ways to store energy by Jim McClelland 

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Cutting costs dramatically

For many businesses operating in the electric vehicle and solar industries, getting the price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) down to $100 has long been the ultimate goal. Achieving this price point would mean that running an electric vehicle would cost around the same as petrol-powered ones; while for solar power providers it would mean that energy generated in the day could now be stored for use at night at an affordable cost.

But the new super battery from BioSolar has blown that price point right out of the water and is set to almost halve it, with the current estimate of the cost coming in at around $54/kWh. Additionally, it can be created in the same way as existing battery manufacturing processes so manufacturers will be able to easily integrate it into their business without having to make costly investments in new machines.

Now that the research is heading into the next stage, if the prototypes deliver what they’re expected to, BioSolar will no doubt have potential partners lining up to bring its super battery to the market, and it will remain the hot topic at cleantech conferences around the world for some time to come.

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.