Thursday, February 5, 2009

Graphene for the Green Grid: Ultracapacitors that store more could help the grid run smoothly.

From MIT's Technology Review:

Integrating irregular sources of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, with the electrical grid, while keeping power output steady, is going to be a big challenge. Energy-storage devices called ultracapacitors could help by storing sudden surges of power. But much will depend on developing a new generation of ultracapacitors with enough storage capacity to meet the likely demand.

Graphene Energy, a startup based in Austin, TX, hopes that ultracapacitors with electrodes made of graphene--sheets of carbon just an atom thick--will be the solution. The storage capacity of an ultracapacitor is limited only by the surface area of its electrodes, and graphene offers a way to greatly increase the area available.

Ultracapacitors store energy electrostatically, instead of chemically, as in batteries. During charging, electrons come to the surface of one electrode, and electron "holes" form on the surface of the other. This draws positive ions in an electrolyte to the first electrode and negative ions to the second. By contrast, the chemical reactions used to charge batteries limit the speed with which they can be charged and eventually cause the electrode materials to break down. Ultracapacitors can be charged and discharged very rapidly, in seconds rather than minutes, and can be recharged millions of times before wearing out....MORE

HT: Big Gav