Monday, May 4, 2015

Can a Better Battery Save the Planet?

Tesla announces low-cost batteries for homes
The electric car company Tesla has announced its entry into the energy market, unveiling a suite of low-cost solar batteries for homes, businesses and utilities, “the missing piece”, it said, in the transition to a sustainable energy world.

The batteries, which will retail at $3,500 in the US, were launched on Thursday at a Tesla facility in California by the company’s ambitious founder, Elon Musk, who heralded the technology as “a fundamental transformation [in] how energy is delivered across the earth”.

Wall-mounted, with a sleek design, the lithium-ion batteries are designed to capture and store up to 10kWh of energy from wind or solar panel. The reserves can be drawn on when sunlight is low, during grid outages, or at peak demand times, when electricity costs are highest.

The smallest “Powerwall” is 1.3m by 68cm, small enough to be hung inside a garage on or an outside wall. Up to eight batteries can be “stacked” in a home, Musk said, to applause from investors and journalists at the much-anticipated event.
This will truly revolutionize small scale renewable power for residential use. Solar and even wind energy can be saved for later use, especially for house off the grid, or at the fringes, where things aren't very reliable. At this point, a $3500 back up system would be of interest to me, as our power fails with some frequency, and a large battery back up would be simpler than a home size generator.

However, it's not all cookies and cream. Li ion batteries have their own environmental cost:

Study: Lithium-Ion Batteries Can Impact Environment, Health Negatively
A new study shows that lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles could have negative health and environmental impacts, and offers suggestions on how to improve this technology.
. . .
The researchers found that batteries using cathodes with nickel and cobalt and solvent-based electrode processing are the highest risks for negative health and environmental impacts. These impacts are a result of the production, processing and use of cobalt and nickel metal compounds. The environmental impacts include resource depletion, global warming, and ecological toxicity while the health impacts are poor respiratory, pulmonary and neurological effects.

To lessen such impacts, the study recommends cathode material substitution, recycling of metals from the batteries and solvent-less electrode processing.
Using these batteries on such a large scale will certainly add to the problems of mineral extraction (Ni mines are also known as Superfund sites), and the recycling of the batteries when they inevitably die.

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