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MAKING FUTURE STORAGE MATERIAL

Harry Valentine's picture
Commentator/Researcher Chatila/Menoz

Harry Valentine holds a degree in engineering and has a background in free-market economics. He has undertaken extensive research into the field of transportation energy over a period of 20-years...

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  • Sep 12, 2020 1:06 am GMT
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Electrolysis involves running an electrical current through a water-salt solution, to release the hydrogen atom from the oxygen atom. Likewise, passing an electric current through molten mixture of bauxite ore and cryolite (Al2NaF6) releases aluminum from oxygen and from sodium. Quartz crystals vibrate when subjected to an electric current. Electro-chemical storage batteries involves the equivalent of electrolysis removing oxygen molecules from one compound and transferring the oxygen to temporarily bond to other molecules.

 

There is much as yet unexplored possibility involving possible changes to the chemical structure of various molten and even solid compounds as the result of passing various forms of electrical current through such compounds. A recent innovation in storage battery recharging involves sending a pulsating direct current (DC-power) into partly sulfated lead-acid batteries, to separate the sulfur from the lead and/or lead-oxide plates. Perhaps there may be scope to explore the question into various possibilities that could result from passing pulsating direct DC current through various molten compounds, even adding different powered or molten compounds into the original molten compound that is subject to pulsating electric power.

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One objective of such exploratory experimentation would be to discover as to whether it would be possible to produce some type of porous super-polymer or porous crystal capable of holding massive amounts of static electric power. Such a compound could form the basis of a future ultra-capacitor capable of storing more energy in a physically smaller package than present day ultra-capacitors used in some battery-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.

 

Perhaps there may be scope for future chemists to explore possibilities in chemical bonding that may result from passing various frequencies of pulsating DC current and various frequencies of AC current through various molten compounds. There may also be scope to propagate various frequencies of sound waves through various molten materials, to investigate changes in chemical structure. Other future research could involve the combination of various electric frequencies and sound frequencies simultaneously passing through a molten compound. The ultimate objective of such exploring would be to develop useful future materials, including future electric energy storage material

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Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Sep 12, 2020

An old energy storage media, solar salt, has recently been endorsed by a company backed by Bill Gates.

In this  announcement, Terrapower announced that it will partner with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to develop "Natrium" technology, which pairs GEH's sodium cooled fast reactor with molten salt thermal energy storage.

They envision using the thermal storage to allow a 500MWe generator be driven by a reactor than can only put out 345 MWe worth of heat, using a 5.5 hour salt storage tank.

The hope is that in a grid that is rich in renewable generation (especially PV), such a system could better serve user demand than a purely baseload system, and yield higher revenue as a result.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 14, 2020

What's the history of the solar salt as a storage technology? If it's been around for a while as an 'old' media, why is it now being brought about by Gates and  co.? Or has it always been used but this project represents a new alignment of the technologies, a long overdue marriage of sorts?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Sep 14, 2020

Solar salt (a blend of sodium-nitrate and potassium-nitrate) first debuted as thermal energy storage medium in the DOE's Solar Two 10 MWatt Concentrating Solar-thermal Power (CSP) demonstration power plant in 1995.  It suits the application because unlike water, it does not generate high pressure gas when heated, and unlike oil it does not burn.  It lasts for many decades and can likely be re-processed when old.  Also, it works well at the design temperature of many off-the-shelf steam turbines (565C); but it does need to be kept above the rather high "freezing" temperature of 222C (and more like 285C to keep viscosity low).

The most important feature is the low cost.  For systems that make electricity from heat and already have a steam turbine, it is supposed to be a few times cheaper than batteries.

The burden of freeze protection results in it being mostly considered for power-tower type CSP plants (such as Crecent Dunes) which have only a few fat pipes, compared to trough plants (such as Nevada Solar One which uses oil, and Andasol which uses salt) which have many thin pipes.  

Now that PV has effectively killed off CSP, the question arises of whether solar salt can provide energy storage for the grid by coupling to nuclear plants.  Common Light Water Reactors, which have 300C heat outputs are not very suitable (for optimal cost, the solar salt should be driven across as much of the 285-565C range as possible).  But sodium cooled fast reactors have an output temperature of about 500C, so they are a potential fit (as are molten salt reactors), hence TerraPower's interest.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 15, 2020

Thanks for the context, Nathan-- really interesting

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