Sunday, October 01, 2006

About EEStor

In the last week, there's been a bit of hype about a company called EEStor. Relatively little is known about the company, who are continuing their aggravating habit of limelight-avoidance. What is known largely comes from Tyler Hamilton, a Toronto Star reporter who's done most of the reporting and blogging about EEStor. The first major news about EEStor I read was Hamilton's piece, here. The more recent hype has come from this Business 2.0 article that repeated much of what was already known.

EEStor's technology is, based on their patent filing, a ceramic capacitor that can store approximately 50 kwh of electricity, about enough to go 250 miles with current electric cars. Nothing so far fails the laugh test - capacitors are a garden-variety piece of technology: you've got dozens of them in your home, and no small number in your car already. And ultracapacitors - the heaviest of the heavy-duty capacitors - are already being introduced in automotive applications, for example replacing batteries for starting the engine in large trucks. EEStor's claims are novel simply because of the scale. If true, their capacitor is probably the largest, cheapest, most flexible form of electrical storage yet devised by man. (That's why I say "if true.")

But it's not quite yet to pop the champagne. First of all, because there's been no public examination of the technology: EEStor is rumoured to be pursuing third-party verification, and as I said above, the company is being extremely shy. The fact that they aren't grandstanding is seen by some as credibility-enhancing. Judge for yourselves.

Questions like this, left in comments at my blog, are natural:

is this the answer to peak oil?

Anonymous, wherever you are, no. This is not - on it's own - the answer to Peak Oil. Energy storage technologies are moving quickly, and they'll definitely play a role in the future of the energy system - even if EEStor turns out to be garbage, li-ion batteries are moving quickly as well. There's also more unconventional forms of (stationary) energy storage, such as compressed air or molten salts.

But these are all forms of energy storage, not sources of energy on their own. The primary form of energy for the United States would still, even if every car had one of these EEStor capacitors in it, still be coal and oil. (We could use a lot less, but still.) The objective still has to be reducing the amount of oil we use to avoid Peak Oil (whenever it happens, better to prepare early.) Quite aside from Peak Oil, climate change requires that we stop using fossil carbon altogether. Storage technologies, exciting as they are, are not by themselves the answer.

I keep waiting for some kind of public statement by EEStor, and until they do it is on my list of things I hope turn out legit, but I'm also not competent to say outright whether it's above board.

(Cross-Posted at Ezra's)


Matt said...

No, this is the solution the peak oil. We have more than enough coal to produce electricity, and by eliminating our use of gasoline for transportation (45% of our use) we could easily move away from all oil use. Plus, it would enable storage of grid electricity for solar electric power. That is, if there is a solution, this is it.

Anonymous said...

What is written in the article is technically correct:
energy generation and storage are separate.

Still, I think you are right, Matt. There is more than enough electricity generated to make fuel EVs. Not only that which is unused at night, there is another factor that is often overlooked:
the oil industry uses vast amounts of electricity to refine the oil into diesel and gasoline. They also waste huge amounts of water.

And even if there wasn't enough, it wouldn't matter.

First, the change wouldn't happen overnight. The entire world would not switch from polluters to evs even within a year, so the power companies would have plenty of time to prepare. And they would because more demand is more business for them.

Second, even should the change happen quickly, the increased demand would push up prices - it would be still cheaper per mile than gas - making renewable energy more attractive. This would increase the revenue of such companies, leading to more investment, more competition from those wanting some of the action, which would lead to better technology and higher efficiency which in turn would lead to lower prices, making it even more attractive.
Maybe then we could get away from the current "what can we burn next?" mentality and use only clean energy.

David Stone said...

Hm, didn't show my name...