Developing home-energy infrastructure

TSJ Science and EnvironmentBy Rylan Bledsoe

Modern technology offers endless solutions to society’s energy needs. We must only choose to harness them. Last week’s column focused on large-scale electrochemical energy storage. The method, developed by David Sadoway at MIT, uses a bimetallic alloy (Mg-Sb) and a mixture of metallic salts to create a heat generating energy storage device. Applied to the modern household, solar panels charging this simple, eco-friendly battery could not only be saved as energy in electrical devices, but also used as a heat source capable of operating from 700–1300°F. High dollar steak houses often boast oven temperatures as high as 1800°F. However, Internet search winner Joe O’Connell at SteakPerfection.Blogspot states that, “the perfect grilling temperature is 750° F.”

Sadoway’s startup company Ambri Inc. could not only provide a product that stores renewable energy cheaply and efficiently, it could also help cook gourmet quality meals due to its high operating temperature. In rural areas where people depend on wood and kerosene for heat and lighting, this technology would essentially “kill two birds with one stone.” Not only is energy for light being stored, it is also simultaneously creating a stable, high power cooking element.

The “Handbook of Metallurgical Process Design” provides a maximum working temperature of around 2,200°F for steel alloys. Perhaps the clever will complete the self-sustaining energy homestead around this battery by using the passive heat to power their very own hot working forge or ceramic kiln.

While having a forge in your garage would be nice, it doesn’t fit typical consumers’ interests. What if, however, the battery in your garage could be the energy for your daily commute. Elon Musk’s famous Tesla Motors aims for 2017 for a lower cost electric sedan priced at $35,000. The battery in these electric cars is a form of lithium ion technology, which provides a driving range of 200-300 miles.

Tesla Motors also recently introduced the Powerwall product, which is built from the same type of lithium ion technology and is used for household energy storage. The liquid metal battery provides some very clear advantages to the household energy source, whereas the lithium ion technology is lacking. The most important factor is that it is eco-friendly and inherently cheap.

From the writer’s perspective, rare-earth elements involved in the production of lithium ion batteries will inevitably lead to consumer demand for a lower cost, sustainable alternative. Another tech startup, NanoFlowcell, has generated buzz for an automobile that uses two ionic fluids separated by selectively permeable membrane. According to Top Gear, the high-powered sports car can go from 0–62 mph in under three seconds and reach a top speed of 182 mph with 1075 bhp and range of 500 miles.

New technologies are constantly surfacing to challenge the climate of our energy environment. All inhabitants of Earth will soon have a viable, low-cost pathway to free themselves from fossil fuels and create their own abundance of light and energy. To a consumer, creating the energy homestead is a freeing act, a leap of faith and a stride for personal independence. Many will take the leap when industry can provide smart, efficient products that people can afford.

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