Limitless Possibilities…For Energy Storage, Of Course

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Chris Hemsworth’s new Limitless series on healthy living is unspooling on Disney+ tonight. That means the time is ripe to check in on the work of energy storage pioneer John Goodenough, who is still hard at work after celebrating his 100th birthday this year. The connection is longevity, as you will see. If you decide to binge all six episodes at once, be sure to save some energy for the final chapter. It is full of surprises.

The Person Behind The Lithium-Ion Battery

Professor John Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin is widely credited with the work leading up to the lithium-ion energy storage breakthrough.

“He identified and developed the critical materials that provided the high-energy density needed to power portable electronics, initiating the wireless revolution,” explains UT.

“In 1979, Goodenough showed that by using lithium cobalt oxide as the cathode of a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, it would be possible to achieve a high density of stored energy with an anode other than metallic lithium,” UT adds, noting that Goodenough won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2019 for his work, among a long list of other prizes and recognitions.

You’re Never Too Old To Invent New Energy Storage Technology

CleanTechnica caught up with the inventor in 2015, when we caught wind of a new energy storage invention cooked up by Goodenough and his team. At an age when most people are living out Episode 6 of Limitless (spoiler alert!), Goodenough came up with a new sodium-ion battery based on NaFe(SO4)2, which is the formula for Eldfellite, a mineral found in Iceland after a volcano erupted (for those of you keeping score at home, that was the Eldfell eruption of 1973).

Since then, sodium-ion technology has been a frequent guest on the pages of CleanTechnica. The US Department of Energy is among those picking up the sodium-ion ball and running with it. The agency’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, for example, has been tweaking the formula to extend the lifespan of sodium-ion batteries.

Meanwhile, UT has also played a leading role in Teague Egan’s new EnergyX energy storage venture, which launched in 2018 to leverage a new lithium extraction method leading to solid-state battery technology as a lifespan-enhancer.

This startup is no small potatoes. Among other affiliations, EnergyX has an R&D partnership with the MWET (Center for Materials for Water and Energy Systems) laboratory at UT. The company also has exclusive rights to a suite of technologies developed by teams from Monash University, CSIRO (the Australian National Laboratory), UT under a $10.75 million grant from the US Department of Energy.

Battling The Climate Crisis Mind Game

That’s peanuts. Last month, Reuters reported that EnergyX received a commitment of $450 million from the $3.4 billion alternative investment group Global Emerging Markets Group, which will come in handy as the company lays plans to go public within the next year or so.

“EnergyX is one of several companies developing its own version of a direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology, aiming to produce the metal less expensively and with a smaller environmental footprint than traditional open-pit mines and evaporation ponds,” Reuters explains.

If all goes according to plan, GEMG will demonstrate how quickly the arc of global economic decarbonization can bend, now that the big bucks are behind it.

That’s an important point to keep in mind as the climate crisis heats up and the “climate doomerism” social media machine revs up. The relentless pounding of we-are-so-fkd messaging can put a damper on grassroots climate activists and suck public support away from policy makers, investors and innovators.

Last spring, for example, BBC reporter Marco Silva took note of apocalyptic messages on social media that can easily foster feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, leading to inaction.

We bring this up because Limitless takes on the stress factor, and we had a chance to interview Columbia University Professor Modupe Akinda, the stress expert who talked Chris Hemsworth past his anxiety about accomplishing a particular task.

As the Director of the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership & Ethics, Akinda studies the psychology and physiology of stress and anxiety. The big question is why some people buckle under pressure and become frozen in a morass of anxiety, while others double down and thrive.

Akinda has some answers. In an exclusive interview with CleanTechnica last week, she described the kind of mindset that can help stimulate positive, can-do responses to the climate crisis.

Akinda emphasized that the conventional pathways for managing stress are reduction, avoidance, or denial. That’s not going to work with the climate crisis.

“Being frozen is one of the outcomes of being taught that stress is debilitating and is bad for us,” she said. “But stress can be enhancing. So acknowledge it — acknowledge your stress, and think about the psychology you engage in.”

Rather than heading for food, drink, and other familiar coping strategies, Akinda advises people who are stressed over the climate crisis to take a step back and remember why they are stressed.

“People are stressed because they care,” she said. “Get back to the underlying reason why you care. That gives you a sense of purpose and meaning. If I want a world where my children can live longer, the work I’m doing has meaning and purpose.”

For Limitless, Akinda engaged Hemsworth in an exercise of “positive self-talk.” She described how that approach can be deployed to fend off feelings of helplessness in the face of the climate crisis.

“I can imagine that in a situation like climate change we think this is a waste of time, that I’m a fool for engaging in this area,” she explained. “You need to say wow, I am courageous for tackling this. I’m up for a challenge.”

“The other thing I remind people is to channel their stress and look at the opportunities inherent in that stress,” she added. “We can all point to situations where stress helps us rise to the occasion.”

Akinda also had plenty to say about mindfulness, as in taking a step back to still your mind and take care of your physical response to stress.

She emphasized that mindfulness is a judgement-free exercise that can take different forms.

“I remind people there are lots of ways to approach stilling your mind. I would encourage people to find the thing that allows their mind to slow down,” she said. “If we are able to detect when we are feeling stress it has long term benefits for our health. Each person is different, and it’s on you to find what works.”

Onward & Upward For Energy Storage

As for solutions to the climate crisis, energy storage is the key to unlocking the vast resources of the sun and wind, which is why CleanTechnica pays so much attention to the topic.

Battery-type energy storage technology gets much of the attention, partly because of its application to the attention-getting world of electric vehicles.

That’s just one branch of a sprawling field that includes pumped hydro “water batteries” and other systems that leverage the vast resource of the Earth’s gravity, in addition to the emerging green hydrogen market.

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Image courtesy of Nicole Cappello (Disney) via dropbox.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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