Distributed Energy

Charging Ahead

From early batteries to new flexible energy storage technologies

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Three archeological objects—a ceramic pot, a copper tube, and an iron rod—are considered by some to be the earliest energy storage technology. These artifacts, together called the Baghdad Battery, were first described by Wilhelm Konig, a curator at the National Museum of Iraq, in a 1938 paper. They are believed to date to the Parthian period, between 250 BC and AD 224.

Konig theorized that, when filled with an acidic electrolyte fluid such as wine or vinegar, the terracotta vessel, copper cylinder, and iron rod produced an electric current. He proved the energy production capability with a similar device. Evidence of corrosion further corroborates his theory. The design of this galvanic chamber is simple, yet effective for current generation. Experts speculate that the electricity produced may have been used for electroplating.  

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I offer this historical reference as perspective—a starting point from which we’re able to observe the development of ever-smaller, ever-denser battery solutions. In recent years, the better battery challenge has been met with a series of remarkable energy storage advancements—including the announcement last week of a revolutionary new flexible technology.

A team of engineers from the University of Glasgow’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) research group has created a flexible device that can generate solar power and store excess energy for later use. Their research was published in Advanced Science.

The team developed a composite made up of graphene, graphite, and polyurethane to produce a ground-breaking supercapacitor with an electroactive surface that offers an energy-dense, bendable storage technology for both power production and storage. The material’s top graphene layer generates solar power with the help of flexible photovoltaic cells. That power can be stored below in a supercapacitor substrate.

“Our new flexible supercapacitor, which is made from inexpensive materials, takes us some distance towards our ultimate goal of creating entirely self-sufficient flexible, solar-powered devices which can store the power they generate,” Professor Ravinder Dahiya, Professor of Electronics and Nanoengineering at the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering, said in a press release.

Whereas previous iterations have produced very small voltages of 1 volt or less, the new flexible supercapacitor design can deliver 2.5 volts, making it capable of powering a number of electronic devices. The technology also shows promising cycling capabilities, with no significant degradation after powering and discharging 15,000 times during testing.

Researchers have already demonstrated the supercapacitor’s ability to power 84 LED lights for more than a minute, to drive the actuators of a prosthetic limb, to power high‐torque motors, and energize wearable sensors. The team hopes that the advancement offers life-enhancing solutions in the form of wearable health devices and prosthetics.

“There’s huge potential for devices such as prosthetics, wearable health monitors, and electric vehicles which incorporate this technology,” said Professor Dahiya. “We’re keen to continue refining and improving the breakthroughs we’ve made already in this field.”

In what areas do you think that this flexible battery technology will have the greatest impact? What other applications do you envision?  DE_bug_web

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  1. It’s great that advances are continually being made in the energy storage field. It’s going to be a necessary component in developing a carbon neutral civilization. However, let’s not get paralyzed to act in the present while staying attentive to future developments. PV and wind technologies in their existing possible applications already are cost effective alternatives to gas or coal powered electric generation. If you have been considering making this transition for your personal or business energy needs for the past 42 months, but have not acted because you wanted to wait for something better, you would have already recovered 50% of the cost of the transition by now if you had acted 3 1/2 years ago. Let’s say a better system comes to market in the next 3 1/2 years. Your original investment would have already paid for itself by the time the new technology is available, and will continue returning savings for a warranted 18 more years, giving you a ROI that you could bank for a few years while waiting for prices to become more reasonable to add the new technology. The time to act is NOW. Federal tax credits for PV systems begin to sunset in 2020.
    Disclaimer: I neither own stock in, nor am involved in the renewable energy business. I just want to see our civilization develop its potential instead of being dragged to its extinction by our lowest common denominators: greed, superstition, resistance to change, and the need to compete overshadowing the need to cooperate.

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