Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Battery Could Solve Household Electrical Storage Problem

What if you got all your household's electricity from a battery?

Thanks to a company in Utah, it could happen.

According to the Department of Energy, Americans in 2007 consumed an average of 936 kWh of electricity per month. Or 31 kWh (kilowatt-hours) per day.

Ceramatec, a subsidiary of CoorsTek (yes, that Coors), has developed a battery about the size of a refrigerator that generates 20-40 kWh of electricity per day.

That is truly a remarkable breakthrough. Batteries with high energy density typically use molten sodium and operate at around 600 degrees C. Aside from being too large to fit into your house, they're not something you want to hang around. Sodium in its normal state is fairly reactive. In its molten form, it's extremely toxic and corrosive.

Ceramatec's battery contains sodium too, but the metal stays in a user-friendly state. It is separated from a sulfur compound by a thin ceramic membrane. The thinner the membrane, the cooler the sodium. This membrane is paper-thin, keeping the sodium at a balmy 90 degrees C.

The company says its battery produces a steady 5 kW of power for 4 hours, or 20 kWh, on one charge. It can take 3,650 discharge/recharge cycles over its lifetime, or 1 cycle per day for 10 years. That's a total power production of 73,000 kWh before you have to buy a new battery.

Each battery will cost about $2000. Which means your cost per kWh is 2.7 cents.

My electricity from the local utility in Connecticut costs 23.3 cents per kWh, including all generation, transmission and distribution costs.

A customer could use clean energy from solar panels or wind turbines to charge her Ceramatec battery. If this energy costs less than 20.6 cents per kWh, the battery puts money in her pocket.

Ceramatec says it is 6 months away from commercializing the battery.

Let's hope the product fulfills its promise. Reliable electricity storage is just the shot in the arm renewable energy needs.

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