A powerful project
West Virginia University researchers Meng Yao and Hui Zhang are part of the team developing lower-cost, lower-temperature sodium-glass composite electrolytes (inset) for utility-scale battery storage.
West Virginia University photo
Associate professor Xingbo Liu is the director of the new Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage at West Virginia University.
West Virginia University photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia, of course, and its flagship university have been integral to the coal industry for many years. Now West Virginia University is poised to be at the forefront of a different energy equation.
“America needs more affordable, large-scale electrochemical storage systems,” said Xingbo Liu, an associate professor at WVU and the director of its new Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage. CEES is a research initiative that was launched a month ago, with the intent of improving the way electricity is produced and transported.
Energy storage for the grid is a relatively new technology that experts at WVU are now tackling. They are working on producing large-capacity electrochemical storage batteries that, especially in case of a large-scale emergency or need, would provide power quickly.
If, for example, a sufficient number of large-volume storage batteries had been in place in July, millions in the U.S. who lost power would have had a backup source of electricity that may have limited their time in the dark to a few hours or minutes.
The batteries of today are smaller and costlier than those envisioned. The larger batteries would be rechargeable too.
Liu said those batteries probably would be vital to providing a consistent flow of energy from fossil fuels and renewable storage – consistent and immediate.
“Energy storage provides energy when it is needed, just as transmission provides energy where it’s needed,” said Imre Gyuk, director of the Department of Energy’s Energy Storage Research program for the past decade. He and Liu spoke at the Oct. 24 kickoff at WVU’s Evansdale campus.
The CEES initiative was formed through a $1.3 million Research Challenge Grant from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy’s Division of Science and Research.
Liu is a professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at the school’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Sciences. CEES is initially working on a technology he developed, which employs a sodium-based composite material that is supposed to allow a large battery to work at a much lower temperature, making it less costly and more efficient than ones now in use.
“Our research started several years ago,” Liu said.
Electrochemical storage on the grid has grown dramatically in the past year, from 370 megawatts worldwide in May 2011 to 615 MW this September. This includes the Laurel Mountain wind farm in north-central West Virginia, about 60 miles south of Morgantown. Laurel Mountain has 61 turbines across 12 miles and can generate a maximum of 98 megawatts of electricity.
Gyuk called the U.S. electric grid “a technological marvel.” He has more than something to do with that. His Energy Storage Research Program, with $185 million in stimulus funding, is pursuing projects involving large battery systems, compressed air, frequency regulation, distributed energy and development of technology.
He mentioned one regional company that is involved in energy storage — Aquion Energy on the South Side of Pittsburgh.
Liu has recruited WVU scientists, chemists and other professionals for his program, putting together two teams. He and Xueyahn Song, also from mechanical and aerospace engineering, are on the materials development team along with Bingyun Li, of the school of medicine, and Michael Shi, of the chemistry department.
The multi-scale modeling team consists of Ismail Celik (mechanical and aerospace) and James Lewis (physics department).
Liu invited Patricia Lee, of the School of Law, to work with the school’s Office of Technology Transfer on moving resulting research from the lab to the market.
Trina Wafle and Kathleen Cullen, of WVU’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy, assist in program management.
The center is striving to do more than enhance the energy industry. It is looking to create jobs and preserve ones that exist. And graduate classes in eregy storage and preserve are planned.
Wafle, deputy director of the Center for Coal and Energy, is enthusiastic about CEES’s plans. ”We can continue to make traditional energies viable along with new ones,” she said. “We have to push the boundaries to make a neater, greener system.”
Though his vision may be years away, Gyuk has an even loftier goal: “We want to make energy storage ubiquitous.”
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