From Handle Bars to Energy Storage?

I’m all for wind and solar power, but the main obstacle to moving away from fossil fuels and toward these renewable energies is the ability to store the energy when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. There are two ways to store energy: rechargeable batteries and ultracapacitors. Research is being done at the University of Texas at Austin on the possibility of using graphene as an ultracapacitor. Graphene’s high surface area and high number of ions allow a very high level of charge to be stored.

The amount of electrical charge stored per weight of the graphene material has already rivaled the values available in existing ultracapacitors, and modeling suggests the possibility of doubling the capacity.

The pros of using ultracapacitors include longer life, higher energy storage, and lower maintenance. This new technology can be applied to the electrical grid of cities so that renewable technologies can begin to be installed nearby, as well as the powering of electric and hybrid cars.

The question, however, is which should be implemented or invested in first – the technology that will supply the clean power, or the ability of a city to incorporate the new flow of energy through its grid? The problem of energy transmission also arises, as wind farms are usually located far away from cities. It’s interesting how a string of molecules can have so many uses, from harmful gas sensors, to mountain bike handle bars, and now a way to store renewable energy.

Comments (4) Add yours ↓
  1. pweibel

    Graphene is probably the coolest thing ever, but, I think it would definitely be more important to focus on researching and perfecting methods of renewable energy gain and high-density farming. Mainly because graphene costs $1000 for a cross section the size of a hair. Kinda hard to work with in bulk…

    1 October 2008
  2. csimmons

    By renewable energy gain do you mean increasing tax incentives and the sort so that the technology can become more widely available? I definitely agree with that, but in terms of farming, I’m more interested in hydroponic farming, a technique that involves no soil ( – so we don’t have to worry about Nitrogen content, etc. and messing with the nutrient cycles of the earth. I have a hydroponic garden at home, and last winter I grew cherry tomatoes and some herbs. (Obvious pro – you don’t have to worry about the seasons). But in regards to graphene, maybe (hopefully?) it will be like most technologies – very expensive in its infancy (like when a VCR was a few hundred dollars in the 80s, and even $2000 in the 70s!), and as it improves it becomes cheaper. Let’s just cross our fingers.

    2 October 2008
  3. pweibel

    I actually meant hydroponics when I was talking about high-density farming. You can really do that stuff anywhere, which means that there will be a greater instance of decentralized food growth – which would greatly cut back on the cost/amount of energy associated. Think about it, you’d no longer have to import bananas from peru.

    And the problem with graphene (hopefully this’ll change) that makes it so much different than things such as VCR’s is the way that you get it (at least this is what i understood): you have to treat graphite with harsh chemicals then peel away layers of graphene. Hard to scale stuff like that up. Hopefully someone will come up with some synthesis for it soon.

    6 October 2008
  4. skassel

    And that’s why research is done. Given sufficient time/motivation/resources, someone will figure out a way to do it on a large(r) scale, and most likely it won’t be a single individual or group. Things like this tend to be ‘discovered’ by multiple people/groups within a short period of time…

    15 October 2008

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