Want To Bet Against Elon Musk? Solar City / Tesla Energy Storage

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SolarCity Sees Energy Storage ‘Viable’ Within 10 Years, CEO Says

Elon Musk is CEO SpaceX, CEO Tesla Motors, Chairman Solar City. SpaceX made history as the world’s first privately held company to send a cargo payload to the International Space Station. Tesla builds electric vehicles and its Model S is Motor Trend 2013 Car of the Year. Solar City is one of the largest solar manufacturers and installers in the U.S., and provides the solar panels and installation for Tesla’s free charging stations.

Now Tesla is providing SolarCity with batteries for their energy storage product. SolarCity already has 395 energy storage “pilots” under contract. SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive says storage will be viable in 10 years and that “We will solve the storage issue.”

Given the technological and business success of SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, do you want to bet against their storage success?

SolarCity Sees Energy Storage ‘Viable’ Within 10 Years, CEO Says – Businessweek

“It’ll be a viable product in the next ten years,” SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive said today in an interview in San Francisco. “We don’t know yet how big the next phase is going to be, but this is a long term investment, full stop,” he said. “We will solve the storage issue.”

The San Mateo, California-based company is installing 8 kilowatt-hour battery packs provided by Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) and combining them with energy management systems that allow for remote monitoring. Storage will be crucial to balance the U.S. electric grid as solar expands from 1 percent of total generation capacity today, according to Rive.

via SolarCity Sees Energy Storage ‘Viable’ Within 10 Years, CEO Says – Businessweek.

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A New Entrant In The Hydrogen Storage Race

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There is another entry in the cheap hydrogen storage race. Two scientists at the University of Calgary believe they have discovered a way to use inexpensive, safe catalysts to produce hydrogen from water through electrolysis. They believe their catalysts will be 1,000 times cheaper than what is used today. They have started a new company, FireWater Fuel Corp., to commercialize the technology.

The key to their approach is using unstructured materials (unorganized and randomly distributed as opposed to organized crystalline structures). The unstructured materials allow more gaps and thus increase the catalytic action. The two scientists have discovered a fairly efficient way to create the unstructured materials that they believe can be done on an industrial scale. (More details below.)

I hope they are right. Their goal is “… to have a commercial product in the current large-scale electrolyzer market in 2014, and a prototype electrolyzer – using their new catalysts – ready by 2015 for testing in a home.” The idea is that people could use excess solar electricity to make hydrogen during the day, and then use a fuel cell to create electricity from the hydrogen when the solar panels are not producing electricity.

They may want to leverage the experience of a similarly targeted company, Sun Catalytix. In 2009 Sun Catalytix had similar, admirable, lofty goals to use its catalysts to create a hydrogen storage energy source. (See Sun Catalytix Receives Seed Financing from Polaris Venture Partners.) A recent article talked about time to market:

The vision of using a low-cost, solar-powered electrolyzer brought heaps of publicity to the company and Nocera, who advocated using the technology in developing countries. At the time, many venture capitalist companies were willing to invest in companies formed to commercialize lab research. But as the experience at Sun Catalytix shows, development times in material science are typically many years and require a substantial amount of capital to bring to market.

Decelle joined the company in June of 2011 and by the fall, it was clear the company had to pursue a shorter-term commercial market. “That (artificial leaf) technology tends to rely on hydrogen infrastructure. But when you think about that in venture capital time scales, it’s a tough pitch,” he says.

I cannot help but see eerie parallels between the two groups of scientists. Simon Trudel, one of the University of Calgary scientists, said “Our vision is to have these in your home so you can be completely off grid eventually.” (Globe and Mail video.) Sun Catalytix founder Daniel Nocera said much the same thing in 2009. I wish Sun Catalytix and Firewater Fuel much success.

What have the two University of Calgary researchers discovered?

Curtis Berlinguette and Simon Trudel, both assistant professors in the chemistry department in the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary, have discovered a ground-breaking way to make new affordable and highly efficient catalysts (called electrocatalysts) for converting electricity into chemical energy. A catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction.

What makes the electrocatalysts created by the University of Calgary researchers different than conventionally made, commercial catalytic materials?

Chemists have traditionally been attracted to creating catalysts out of ‘pure’ crystalline-structured materials. They’ve tended to ignore unstructured material as the “crud at the bottom of the flask.”

“There really have been few significant advances in catalyst design over the last three decades,” Berlinguette says.

He and Trudel developed a novel process that uses cheap, abundant and non-toxic metals (e.g. iron, cobalt, nickel) combined in a highly disordered, or amorphous, structure.

Think of crystalline structures as being like tiles laid in an ordered pattern on a floor, while amorphous structures are like tiles thrown on a floor. Such an amorphous material has no symmetry and is full of ‘defects.’

These ‘defects’ in amorphous mixed metal oxide materials actually make them more chemically reactive – and therefore more efficient catalysts – than crystalline materials.

Laboratory tests by the University of Calgary researchers show their catalysts perform as well as or better than catalysts now on the market – but theirs are 1,000 times cheaper.

“We’re essentially showing, even with our ‘first generation’ of catalysts, that we’re equal to or better than anything that’s sold commercially right now after 30 years of development,” Trudel says.

via New, inexpensive, efficient catalysts offer viable way to store and reuse renewable energy | News & Events | University of Calgary.

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Stanford scientists calculate the carbon footprint of grid-scale battery technologies

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Solar and wind power pose a challenge for the U.S. electrical grid, which lacks the capacity to store surplus clean electricity and deliver it on demand. Researchers are developing grid-scale storage batteries, but the fossil fuel required to build these technologies could negate some of the environmental benefits of new solar and wind farms, say Stanford scientists. Credit: Eugene Water & Electric Board/NREL.

Stanford scientists looked the energy stored on investment (ESOI) of various storage technologies. At the low end were lead-acid batteries with an ESOI of 2.0, meaning they are only able to supply twice the amount of energy that it takes to manufacture them. Of all the battery types evaluated, lithium-ion was the best, but they only had an ESOI of 10.0. The main reason for the poor ESOI figures is that all batteries have a limited number of charge/discharge cycles compared to the energy it takes to build them.

In contrast, hydro pumped storage had an ESOI of 210. Of course, there are limited geographic opportunities for hydro pumped storage. Compressed air energy storage (CAES) using caverns had the best ESOI, 240. This may bode well for companies like SustainX and LightSail Energy that seek to bring CAES on an industrial scale without the use of caverns.

via Stanford scientists calculate the carbon footprint of grid-scale battery technologies.

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