These days I’m a bit wary about new developments in renewable energy that have shown up in a lab. There are a lot of these that come out on a regular basis, and a vast majority of them have yet to actually be put to any practical use. They’re fun to check out, and it can be encouraging to see the things we could do, if we had a national effort to change our energy infrastructure, but it’s also frustrating, because it seems like most of these developments don’t really go anywhere, or if they are going somewhere, it’s not fast enough.
Another problem I have is that I don’t know enough about electronics, physics, and chemistry to make a concrete assessment of the practicality of any given technology, so I’ve gotten caught up in pipe dreams in the past. I don’t know which this is, but if it pans out, it’s a seriously big deal.
PBS reports that the scientist behind the lithium-ion battery has published the design of a lithium-glass battery that represents a significant improvement in performance across the spectrum:
The new technology not only triples the energy density of lithium-ion, it also recharges in minutes, survives thousands charging cycles, operates across a wide range of temperatures (-4˚ F to 140˚ F), and won’t catch fire.
This is a big deal, but it may just be the tip of the iceberg. One of the big concerns with current battery technology is the resources that go into making the batteries. While lithium isn’t the least abundant substance on the planet, it’s not the most abundant either. We could certainly dramatically increase the amount of lithium-based batteries in use, and not run out, but it’s not clear that we could use it to store all the energy we need to replace fossil fuels.
Goodenough, however, isn’t just offering us a better lithium-based battery:
With a little more development, Goodenough, a professor of engineering at the University of Texas, thinks they could reliably replace lithium with sodium, an abundant element that’s in everything from underground seams of salt to nearly ubiquitous ocean water.
If this bears out, I would argue that there will no longer be any credible objection to renewable energy sources as a viable replacement for fossil fuels.