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Posted: August 24, 2008

How nanotechnology benefits the science of renewable energy storage

(Nanowerk News) The science of renewable energy storage and how nanotechnology can benefit that science is the subject of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s next Frontiers in Science Lecture beginning August 26 in Los Alamos.
Albert Migliori of the Laboratory’s National High Magnetic Field Lab will give the series of public talks, titled, “Use It, Lose It, or Save It: The Science of Renewable Energy Storage.”
“The science will take time to mature, but with legislative and economic shelters to nurture it, scientists and engineers can develop better ways to store electrical energy,” Migliori said.
The lectures begin at 7 p.m. and are free of charge.
Lectures are scheduled at the following dates and locations:
  • August 26, Duane W. Smith Auditorium, Los Alamos High School, Los Alamos
  • August 28, James A. Little Theater, New Mexico School for the Deaf, 1060 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe
  • September 2, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, 1801 Mountain Road N.W., Albuquerque
  • September 4, Nick L. Salazar Center for the Arts, Northern New Mexico College, 921 Paseo de Oñate, Española.
  • The Frontiers of Science lecture series is sponsored by the Fellows of the Laboratory. Frontiers in Science lectures are intended to increase local public awareness of the diversity of science and engineering research at the Laboratory.
    For more information go to http://www.lanl.gov/science/fellows/lectures.shtml or contact the Community Programs Office at 665-4400 or (888) 841-8256 toll free.
    The big question for scientists working to bring renewable energy like wind and solar to consumers is how to store the energy so that it can be used when the wind dies down or the sun isn't shining.
    Migliori and other scientists around the world are looking for new ways to store energy, which will enable alternative energy to play a dominant role in energy production.
    The issue of energy storage has been a hot topic among politicians this campaign season as they grapple to find a way to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and lower energy costs for consumers.
    Migliori says renewable energy storage will require many different ideas, but he hopes a Los Alamos lab technology aimed at storing electricity and converting it into ammonia or methane will play a helpful part in that mix.
    "At some point, we will reach a point where renewables make up the largest portion of our energy sources, but we have to solve this storage problem first," Migliori said. "We have a chance to get in on the ground floor now, though, before we create a big mess."
    The problem with renewable sources, he said, is that you can't use them all the time.
    While small storage batteries exist, you can't use wind power to meet large energy demands when the wind isn't blowing and you can't use solar power to meet large energy demands at night, he said.
    But if you can find an efficient way to store that energy, you can transform those sources into a constant stream of power.
    There are several technologies evolving that could help with that, including pumping water up in a dam and then letting it flow down to create power later or shooting compressed air into the ground so you can gather energy from it when it comes back out, Migliori said.
    "You'll need those technologies and more to solve this problem though," Migliori said. "Every single viable solution is going to get used."
    Los Alamos scientists are working on how to transform hydrogen fuel cells into energy storage devices.
    In a process scientists think they can improve through the use of nanotechnology, it's possible to build a device that can store a certain amount of electricity and transform any overflow into ammonia or methane, which can later be converted back into power, he said.
    The way he envisions it, those cooler-sized devices could be placed next to homes all over New Mexico.
    They would be managed by a power company to store alternative power, then shift it around when that power is needed. Because the power would be stored at people's houses, they would be cushioned from power outages because he home would have its own power storage station, he said.
    "Eventually, as it gets more efficient, it could possibly eliminate outages," Migliori said.
    Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory