Oct. 4, 2012 at 3:28 PM ET
The journey to a cooler, greener planet may start with a breath of fresh air, suggests a battery technology under development that could rapidly solve one of the biggest problems with wind and solar energy.
The air we breathe is about 78 percent nitrogen, a gas that turns to liquid at -321 degrees Fahrenheit.
The technology from Highview Power Storage in the United Kingdom involves extracting carbon dioxide and water vapor from the air, chilling the nitrogen to its liquid state and storing it in a giant vacuum flask.
Then, when energy is needed, the liquid is warmed to ambient temperature. As it transition to the gas phase, it expands about 700 times, generating force to drive a turbine that generates electricity.
Wind and solar power are used to suck air into compressors, purify it and freeze it, which gets us over the hurdle of the intermittentcy problem of the renewable energy.
Studies have shown time and again there’s more than enough wind and solar energy available to power the world, we just need to harness it and store it so that we can use it when and where we need it instead of only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.
Researchers around the world are chasing a range of technologies to overcome the hurdle, such as the liquid batteries under development by Donald Sadoway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Current battery technologies are more energy efficient than liquid nitrogen storage, noted Stuart Nelmes, an engineer with High Power Storage, told the BBC’s Energy Live News.
But the liquid nitrogen technology is more mature, scalable and adaptable to today’s electricity grid, he added, which makes the cool tech an attractive solution to a big green tech problem.
A pilot project is up and running outside of London and the company signed a commercial agreement with a German firm to develop plants in Africa, according to Discovery News.