Total, a French oil company, recently agreed to give the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) $4 million for a 5-year research project to develop stationary batteries that can more efficiently store solar energy.
More efficient energy storage has been a difficult issue for scientists to crack. It is a major issue preventing more widespread use of renewable energy, and solar energy in particular.
Is this project, one funded by a true oil giant, the one that will make it happen?
Total is giving this funding as part of MIT’s Energy Initiative, which Total joined one year ago — November, 2008. Director of the MIT Energy Initiative program, Ernest Moniz, thinks that this may be the big financial boost that is needed to greatly improve battery efficiency. “Total’s support for research in the storage of solar energy has the potential to be a game-changer,” he said.
The main goal of the project is to create batteries that are low-cost and long-living.
Total’s Interest in Solar Power Technology
Total is the world’s fifth-largest publicly traded oil and gas company. However, it is not new to the world of solar energy. It has been active in this sector since 1983. That is when it acquired an interest in “Tenesol, a company that specializes in manufacturing and operating photovoltaic energy systems, and Photovoltech, a manufacturer of solar cells based on a crystalline silicon technology.” It has also been the largest shareholder of Konarka, a US start-up company in Massachusetts specializing in organic photovoltaic technology, since December of 2008.
If you look at Total’s entire pie for research and development, however, this is a small project. Total has a budget of €770 million ($1.137 billion) for R&D in 2009 alone. Additionally, its partnership with MIT is only one of over 600 (with research organizations, universities and manufacturers) worldwide. Nonetheless, it may be a very important one for solar power and all the things related to that!
MIT Projects Trying for Energy Storage Breakthroughs
This is the second major MIT-initiated project that is trying to create a breakthrough in energy storage for solar power. Daniel Nocera, an MIT professor, is looking to mass-produce a breakthrough energy storage technology that splits water as well. We’ll have to see which of these projects has the biggest effect on solar power usage as time unfolds the future.
Image Credit 1: Slightlynorth via flickr under Creative Commons license
Image Credit 2: Leans via flickr under a CC license
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