Oh the irony, it burns! Texas powered the US into position as a global oil and gas powerhouse, but now the Lone Star State is leading in wind power and its solar sector is coming on strong. If all goes according to plans laid out by the startup EnergyX, Texas will also lay claim to birthing disruptive solid state energy storage technology that shepherds more renewables onto the grid while making electric vehicles go farther, charge faster, and cost less. In an interesting coincidence, the EnergyX news coincides with news that the departments of Energy, Commerce, Defense, and State have all joined forces in support of the domestic lithium battery industry. Interesting!
A Texas-Sized Disruptive Energy Storage Plan Takes Shape
EnergyX has been sailing under the CleanTechnica radar, but the Texas angle involves someone who is a familiar face around here. That would be Dr. John Goodenough, widely credited with inventing the lithium-ion battery 40 years ago. At age 98, the Nobel Prize winner is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in the Cockrell School of Engineering, where his research includes pesky Li-ion battery problems.
One area involves dendrites, the feathery growths that occur over time in conventional Li-ion batteries with liquid electrolytes. They can also form in other energy storage chemistries. Dendrites can interfere with the efficiency of the battery and shorten its lifespan. Solving that problem once and for all could expand the field of next-generation batteries into new materials that are cheap, abundant, and non-toxic.
Though much progress has been made in preventing dendrite formation in liquid electrolytes, researchers have been zeroing in on solid-state electrolytes as a more effective and holistic approach that also cuts costs and boosts efficiency.
Last spring CleanTechnica took a look at the burgeoning interest in solid-state batteries, and noted that “a dramatic improvement in energy density combined with a drop in costs is the energy storage unicorn sought by researchers in the solid state lithium-metal field.”
Speaking of cost, the Energy Department has an optimistic outlook on that. As of 2017 DOE estimated the cost of solid state lithium-metal energy storage at approximately $320 per kilowatt hour, with the potential to drop into the area of $70–120 per kilowatt hour.
That beats the range of DOE’s projections for conventional Li-ion batteries, at $100–160. It also overlaps the agency’s projection for next-generation Li-ion energy storage, which hit the $90–125 range.
Solid State Energy Storage Meets Nobel Prize Winner In Texas
Into the picture comes the startup EnergyX, founded in 2018 and helmed as CEO by entrepreneur and philanthropist Teague Egan.
Last week, EnergyX announced that it has formed a partnership with the University of Texas, building on a licensing deal earlier this year involving UT’s portfolio of new materials, including metal organic frameworks and mixed matrix membranes.
The new partnership is a hands-on, sponsored research deal that provides for Dr. Goodenough’s team to tweak those materials for use in solid state energy storage technology. The research also includes the lab of Dr. Benny Freeman, who directs UT’s Center for Materials in Water and Energy, which is a collaborative effort involving the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and UC-Santa Barbara.
Interesting! We’ll get to that thing about the Energy Department in a sec. Meanwhile, in a press release announcing the new partnership, Egan explained that the goal is specifically to develop his company’s LiTAS™ nanotechnology for use as a solid-state electrolyte.
“The setup we have at The University of Texas is great,” he enthused. “We make the materials in Dr. Freeman’s lab, then take them next door to Dr. Goodenough’s lab to test them in batteries.”
For more details about LiTAS™ check out the company’s website, which explains that it is “the synthesis and characterization of mixed matrix membranes (MMMs) comprising mixtures of polymer and MOF [metal organic frameworks] to retain the attractive selectivity of the MOF, and the scalable and robust mechanical properties of polymers.”
“EnergyX has designed and patented a proprietary scalable casting method to combine our metal organic framework nanoparticles with polymers to create the mixed matrix membranes in a thin film format,” EnergyX adds.
USA Doubles Down On Green COVID-19 Recovery
Got all that? Good! It looks like the US Department of Energy will have a hand in shepherding the new energy storage technology out of the lab and onto the shelves of your local hardware store.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the newly announced battery consortium that DOE just signed on to. The new Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries is aimed at fostering a “robust, secure, domestic industrial base for advanced batteries.”
That’s somewhat ironic, considering that Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette was recently seen touting the oil and gas industry for creating new jobs on the heels of the COVID-19 crisis (coal not so much, apparently).
Nevertheless, in announcing the new energy storage initiative, the DOE connected the dots between clean tech and national defense. That’s a huge deal considering that policy makers in the White House have been going the extra mile to prop up the fossil fuel industry.
Tasked with conveying the message was Daniel R. Simmons, Assistant Secretary of the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
“Batteries power our daily lives, from consumer electronics to national defense,” he said, adding that “Improving battery technology is key to increased electric vehicle acceptance and creating the grid of the future with integrated resiliency and flexibility.”
The new collaboration is part of an ambitious R&D effort launched earlier this year by the DOE under the title, “Energy Storage Grand Challenge.” That initiative is a “comprehensive, agency-wide program to accelerate the development, commercialization, and utilization of next-generation energy storage technologies and sustain American global leadership in energy storage,” the DOE explains.
The initial effort focused on coordinating advanced energy storage research within the DOE’s sprawling network of federal labs, universities, and private sector stakeholders.
Energy Storage Clouds Gather Over Oil & Gas
The new federal consortium is a clear declaration that decarbonization and electrification have are fundamental matters of national security and US economic growth as well.
In other words, the US departments of Energy, Commerce, Defense, and State have all joined forces to pull the rug out from under White House policy in support of the oil and gas industry (again, coal left out in the cold).
In its mission statement, the federal consortium emphasizes that “battery technology holds the key to ushering in an electric vehicle transformation and creating the grid of the future with integrated resiliency and flexibility.”
The consortium also recognizes that “these changes can fundamentally transform world energy markets and lead to the birth of new industries,” while warning that the US has put itself at risk by failing to develop a strong domestic battery manufacturing and supply chain “that can be sustainable in the event of supply chain disruptions.”
“The Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries (FCAB) brings Federal agencies having a stake in establishing a domestic supply of lithium batteries together to accelerate the development of a robust secure domestic industrial base for advanced batteries,” FCAB concludes.
FCAB is already scouting for additional collaborators, so stay tuned for more on that.
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Image (screenshot): Solid-state battery system courtesy of EnergyX.