As industry transitions to a renewable model, the need to develop more efficient energy storage technology has become a key research focus in recent years. However, there are currently several challenges that must be addressed with the technology. This article will explore this subject.
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Energy Storage Technology: The Current Landscape
The drive toward net zero is one of the defining policy areas and a key technological challenge for nearly every government and industry in the world. Transforming the global energy grid from one heavily reliant on fossil fuels to a renewable energy network is vital to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Many major economies, such as the US, China, and the EU have announced increased funding for renewables and energy storage technology projects to meet this changing demand and ensure energy security. In the UK, £32.9 million of funding was announced in late 2022 to develop new energy storage technologies.
Several reports published recently attest to the growing global interest in energy storage technologies. For instance, The Carbon Trust has commissioned a study to address critical questions surrounding future energy storage in the UK. The European Commission regularly publishes guidance for EU member states.
Grid-scale manufacture of battery technologies in countries such as Germany, the US, and Australia is underway, and the World Economic Forum has predicted that thermal energy storage systems will triple in size by 2030 to meet demand. Storing excess power generation for downtime periods is essential to ensure a secure grid.
The current energy storage technology landscape is complex and constantly evolving, requiring a holistic approach. Technology, policy, funding, and multiple industries and governmental agencies must be considered to ensure continued peak capacity and energy security as the world transitions to net zero carbon emissions.
Energy Storage Technology: The Problems
Energy storage technology can be broadly separated into electrical, thermal, and fuel technologies. Concerning renewable energy generation, the main storage solutions are batteries, fuel cells, and supercapacitors. Efficient and reliable storage solutions are needed for the energy and transportation industries.
One of the main challenges in the energy industry at the moment is how to meet peak demand for renewables. Solar and wind generation, for instance, fluctuates seasonally, with weather conditions such as cloud cover interrupting solar energy generation.
Another challenge is the availability of rare earth minerals. Batteries, for example, make heavy use of lithium, a finite resource. Moreover, lithium extraction is environmentally challenging, causing negative effects such as groundwater and soil contamination, toxic waste, and water resource depletion.
Rare earth minerals, essential for all types of energy storage technology, are largely controlled by a minority of world economies, such as China, Chile, and Australia. This makes their supply highly vulnerable to sensitive geopolitical and economic issues.
Yet another issue with energy storage technology is one of grid design. Historically, electricity grids were not designed for storage, as fossil fuels are burned year-round to generate electricity. Scaling up storage, typically with electrochemical batteries, remains highly challenging to meet constant and growing energy demand.
To overcome these and several other challenges associated with the transition to a green, sustainable global energy grid, new technologies will need to be researched, funding will need to be increased, and the political will must exist to improve the energy storage technology sector.
How Could Nanotechnology Help Energy Storage Technology?
Nanotechnology has been successfully utilized in multiple industries and research fields. In recent years, energy storage technology has benefited from research into devices that incorporate nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology has been used to develop more efficient lithium-ion batteries which possess enhanced energy density, cycle life, and charge and discharge efficiency. More durable high-efficiency fuel cells that convert hydrogen to electricity are being developed.
Hydrogen has been widely touted as a green, energy-efficient fuel of the future, but materials used in current energy storage technology solutions cannot meet the demands of the automotive industry.
Research has found development potential in nanoporous metal-organic compounds for hydrogen fuel cell energy storage technology solutions. Currently, these are proving economically realizable for portable electronic devices, but there is potential for the automotive and energy industries.
Other research has demonstrated the suitability of phase change materials as latent heat stores in buildings to improve thermal energy storage, improving the energy efficiency of modern buildings. Research into nanoporous zeolites for district heating grids and industrial applications is also promising.
Nanotechnology can address the current issues in the field of energy storage technology, enabling the development of high-power and high-energy density energy storage materials.
While highly promising, there are some challenges to be overcome with utilizing nanotechnology for this purpose, such as improving manufacturing processes and material stability. The benefits for the energy storage technology sector are vast, however.
Energy Storage Technology: The Future
Efficient and reliable energy storage is central to meeting the demands of modern industry as it transitions to a sustainable, renewable, and carbon-neutral model. However, key challenges persist with energy storage technology which must be urgently addressed to avoid critical bottlenecks.
As the world transitions to a net zero, post-carbon economy, novel and innovative energy storage solutions will be required, likely utilizing new materials from areas such as nanotechnology.
One future direction is the emerging market in developing nations for energy storage, which can reduce their overall electricity costs while providing environmental benefits at a local and global level. Additionally, policies could concentrate on local consumption, providing incentives for consumers.
If the world is to successfully mitigate anthropogenic climate change, there will need to be an increased focus on renewables and alternative fuels. Energy storage technology should be a central part of keeping society’s wheels turning as it continues to transform into a green economy over the coming decades.
References and Further Reading
UK Energy Research Centre (2020) UKERC Energy Research Landscape: Energy Storage [online] ukerc.rl.ac.uk. Available at:https://ukerc.rl.ac.uk/Landscapes/EnergyStorage.pdf
Office of Electricity (2023) U.S. Department of Energy Announces $27 Million To Advance Energy Storage Technologies [online] energy.gov. Available at: https://www.energy.gov/oe/articles/us-department-energy-announces-27-million-advance-energy-storage-technologies
KPMG (2023) New Energy Storage Technologies Empower Energy Transition [online] kpmg.com. Available at: https://kpmg.com/cn/en/home/insights/2023/03/new-energy-storage-helps-energy-transformation.html
Pomerantseva, E et al. (2019) Energy storage: The future enabled by nanomaterials. Science 366:6468 [online] science.org. Available at: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aan8285
European Commission (2023) Energy Storage [online] energy.ec.europe.eu. Available at: https://energy.ec.europa.eu/topics/research-and-technology/energy-storage_en
Kobayashi-Solomon, E (2022) We Have An Energy Storage Problem [online] forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkobayashisolomon/2022/08/18/we-have-an-energy-storage-problem/?sh=579ec65d1681
Gov.uk (2022) Energy storage backed with over £32 million government funding [online] gov.uk. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/energy-storage-backed-with-over-32-million-government-funding
MIT Energy Initiative (2022) The Future of Energy Storage [online] energy.mit.edu. Available at: https://energy.mit.edu/research/future-of-energy-storage/