Elon Musk and Bill Gates may have to settle for runner-up status in the race to develop the breakthrough technology in battery storage. It seems the gold is going instead to a US government agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E).
Ellen Williams, Arpa-E’s director, said: “I think we have reached some holy grails in batteries – just in the sense of demonstrating that we can create a totally new approach to battery technology, make it work, make it commercially viable, and get it out there to let it do its thing,”
If that’s the case, Arpa-E has come out ahead of Gates and Musk in the multi-billion-dollar race to build the next generation battery for power companies and home storage.
Arpa-E was founded in 2009 under Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan to fund early stage research into the generation and storage of energy.
Such projects, or so-called moonshots, were widely seen as too risky for regular investors, but – if they succeed – could potentially be game-changing.
The battery storage systems developed with Arpa-E’s support are on the verge of transforming America’s electrical grid, a transformation that could unfold within the next five to 10 years, Williams said.
The most promising developments are in the realm of large-scale energy storage systems, which electricity companies need to put in place to bring more solar and wind power on to the grid.
She said projects funded by Arpa-E had the potential to transform utility-scale storage, and expand the use of micro-grids by the military and for disaster relief. Projects were also developing faster and more efficient super conductors, and relying on new materials beyond current lithium-ion batteries.
The companies incubated at Arpa-E have developed new designs for batteries, and new chemistries, which are rapidly bringing down the costs of energy storage, she said.
“Our battery teams have developed new approaches to grid-scale batteries and moved them out,” Williams said. Three companies now have batteries on the market, selling grid-scale and back-up batteries. Half a dozen other companies are developing new batteries, she added.
Cheap, efficient and scalable battery storage has been the Holy Grail of renewable energy. That is the key to transitioning off fossil fuels not, as Mr. Trudeau suggests, selling ever more bitumen.