US to invest US$30 million in energy storage R&D

The United States’ government has launched a US$30 million research competition to push forward the development of energy storage technology, in an effort to meet future demand from both the domestic energy market and the military.

Announced by energy secretary Steven Chu, the competition aims to improve the performance and safety of energy storage devices - including hybrid energy storage modules currently under development by the US defence department.

The competition aims to seek out “transformational, breakthrough energy storage technologies that are too risky for private-sector investment but have the potential to translate science into quantum leaps in energy technology”. These, the government said, could form the foundation for entirely new industries, and have large commercial impacts.

“Innovation is our nation’s sweet spot, and it is critically important that we look at every possible energy solution in order to ensure America’s future prosperity and security,” said Chu. “Through [this] competition, we are charging our nation’s best and brightest to develop more effective energy storage technologies, which are used in everything from cell phones to electric vehicles to high-powered military equipment.”

Highly efficient energy storage is a holy grail for renewables advocates, who see storage technology as a solution for the problem of intermittent power from renewables such as wind and solar. Among the achievements the government is hoping to make with the programme are a new generation of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, and enhanced efficiency and reliability of the electricity grid.

On the military side, officials also hope the competition will yield increased fuel efficiency of military generators to help reduce the need for fuel-convoys on the battlefield, improved reliability of military aircraft generators to help to reduce operation and maintenance costs, and next generation high power weapons systems and fuel efficient operations for Navy ships.

The competition, which Chu said “underscored President Obama’s” commitment to energy research and development, has been launched through the government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), which has so far invested over US$500 million in 12 programmes. The energy department said this investment has resulted in about 180 “ground-breaking” projects.

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