May 17, 2020

Smart Grid 101

4 min
var addthis_pub="deantsouvalas";When Roger Duncan was a philosophy major in college, he stumbled upon the first Earth Day celebration and was forever ch...

When Roger Duncan was a philosophy major in college, he stumbled upon the first Earth Day celebration and was forever changed. Until that time he hadn't thought much about becoming an environmentalist. 25 years later, he's known as one of the pioneering business leaders in alternative energy.

Duncan is General Manager for Austin Energy, the nation's ninth-largest community-owned electric utility. Austin Energy serves a population of more than 900,000, and powers Texas' capital city through a diverse mix of sources. The company's portfolio includes nuclear, coal, natural gas and renewable like wind and solar.

As someone who never stops thinking about the shifting renewable energy landscape, Duncan's committed to making Austin Energy the clean-energy example of the US. "Roger's 3 a.m. List" has become code around Austin Energy for the challenging, thought-provoking questions that awake him in the wee hours of the morning.

It's his commitment to finding solutions through innovation in the alternative energy space that earned Duncan recognition in 2005 from BusinessWeek magazine as one of the leaders of the decade in the effort to reduce gases that cause global warming. Duncan joined an international and prestigious group of honorees that included former presidential candidate and Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Triangle of consumption and production
One of Duncan's areas of expertise is a globally popular phrase which can be heard all over. All across the world everyone from President Obama to The World Bank is talking about "the smart grid." However, some people still are unsure of its true meaning. Duncan is just the person to explain.

Taking a broad view of the of the future, Duncan visualizes a triangle of consumption and production, its three points being the utility; homes and buildings; and transportation sectors. Since the 1900s, Duncan explained, the utility simply produced the electricity, delivering it over transmission lines to commercial and residential customers who used it. But under the evolving model of distributed generation, smart grid technology allows energy to flow both ways.

Homes and buildings capture solar energy, while plug-in electric cars generate excess energy stored to their batteries. Both can supply power back to the central grid. As electricity consumers become part-time producers, public utilities will need an entirely new business model.

"When a building is starting to produce its own power through distributed generation, and it could be either solar cells or fuel cells or low power wind and all kinds of things," Duncan explained, "it's starting to move power now back onto the grid at certain times a day. I have about 650 buildings now in Austin and on a hot summer day, I'm the customer, and they're the producer."

Duncan explains that with a dual-directional flow between the automobile and the home, when you plug in your hybrid you're charging off the home. The electricity could be coming from the utility or there could be electricity coming from the home's solar cell. And then the vehicle becomes an auxiliary generator.

According to Duncan, Toyota already has prototype plug-in cars, Duncan says, so "if a thunderstorm moves through and your lights go out, you can plug in your car and turn it on and power your house off the car." In addition to all the power moving between the home, plug-in auto and the utility, he notes there is also information moving back and forth.

"And that's where the smart grid comes in because the smart grid is the interconnectivity not only between the utility and the customer, which is its main focus, but through all the different elements of energy that are being moved about and being monitored and controlled," explains Duncan. "The utility doesn't know your lights are out until you call them, but with the smart meters you don't have to call us. It pings us right away and says I don't have any electricity here. That speeds up our recovery time immensely."

Perfect Storm
Like many, Duncan acknowledges smart-grid technology is the wave of the not too distant future. The fact is smart-grid technology has received an undeniable boost from the global economic stimulus package and the need for increased energy efficiency.

President Obama and other world leaders are completely focused on the development of alternative clean energy sources to reduce global warming. Most companies have shifted their focus to green technology. With all of this being the case, there is a perfect storm in favor of smart-grid technology on the horizon.

For more on the power grid and the next super battery please read our story on Vanadium - The Element that Could Change the World

Visit Austin Energy for more on Roger Duncan and 9th largest community-owned electric utility in the US.

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May 13, 2021

Sakuu Corporation creates 3D printer for EV batteries

Dominic Ellis
4 min
Sakuu is set to enable high-volume production of 3D printed solid-state batteries for electric vehicles as more investment ploughs into SSB production

Sakuu Corporation has announced a new industrial-grade 3D printer for e-mobility batteries which it claims will unlock the mainstream adoption of electric vehicles.

Offering an industrial scale ‘local’ battery production capability, Sakuu believes the technology will provide increased manufacturer and consumer confidence. Sakuu’s Alpha Platform for its initial hardware offering will be available in Q4.

Backed by Japanese automotive parts supplier to major OEMs, Musashi Seimitsu, Sakuu is set to enable fast and high-volume production of 3D printed solid-state batteries (SSBs) that, compared with lithium-ion batteries, have the same capacity yet are half the size and almost a third lighter.

The company’s KeraCel-branded SSBs will also use around 30%-50% fewer materials – which can be sourced locally – to achieve the same energy levels as lithium-ion options, significantly reducing production costs. Sakuu anticipates the 3D printer’s attributes being easily transferable to a host of different applications in other industry sectors.

"For the e-mobility markets specifically, we believe this to be a landmark achievement, and one that could transform consumer adoption of electric vehicles,” said Robert Bagheri, Founder, CEO and chairman, Sakuu Corporation. “SSBs are a holy grail technology, but they are both very difficult and expensive to make. By harnessing the flexibility and efficiency-enhancing capabilities of our unique and scalable AM process, we’re enabling battery manufacturers and EV companies to overcome these fundamental pain points."

The ability to provide on-demand, localised production will create more efficient manufacturing operations and shorter supply chains, he added.

Sakuu will initially focus on the two-, three- and smaller four-wheel electric vehicle market for whom the company’s SSB proposition delivers an obvious and desirable combination of small form factor, low weight and improved capacity benefits. The agility of Sakuu’s AM process also means that customers can easily switch production to different battery types and sizes, as necessary, for example to achieve double the energy in the same space or the same energy in half the space.

Beyond energy storage, Sakuu’s development of print capability opens complex end device markets previously closed off to current 3D printing platforms. These include active components like sensors and electric motors for aerospace and automotive; power banks and heatsinks for consumer electronics; PH, temperature and pressure sensors within IoT; and pathogen detectors and microfluidic devices for medical, to name a few.

"As a cheaper, faster, local, customisable and more sustainable method of producing SSBs – which as a product deliver much higher performance attributes than currently available alternatives – the potential of our new platform offers tremendous opportunities to users within energy, as well as a multitude of other markets," said Bagheri.

Ongoing research and new funding collaborations

Omega Seiki, a part of Anglian Omega Group of companies, has partnered with New York-based company C4V to introduce SSBs for EVs and the renewable sector in India. As part of an MoU, the two companies are also looking at the manufacturing of SSBs in the country, according to reports.

Solid Power, which produces solid-state batteries for electric vehicles, recently announced a $130 million Series B investment round led by the BMW Group, Ford Motor Company and Volta Energy Technologies. Ford and the BMW Group have also expanded existing joint development agreements with Solid Power to secure all solid-state batteries for future EVs. Solid Power plans to begin producing automotive-scale batteries on the company's pilot production line in early 2022.

"Solid-state battery technology is important to the future of electric vehicles, and that's why we're investing directly," said Ted Miller, Ford's manager of Electrification Subsystems and Power Supply Research. "By simplifying the design of solid-state versus lithium-ion batteries, we'll be able to increase vehicle range, improve interior space and cargo volume, deliver lower costs and better value for customers and more efficiently integrate this kind of solid-state battery cell technology into existing lithium-ion cell production processes."

A subsidiary of Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest private company, Vinfast has signed an MoU with SSB manufacturer ProLogium - which picked up a bronze award at the recent Edison Awards - to accelerate commercialisation of batteries for EVs (click here).

Xin Li, Associate Professor of Materials Science, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is designing an SSB for ultra-high performance EV applications. The ultimate goal is to design a battery "that outperforms internal combustion engines so electrical vehicles accelerate the transition from fossil-fuel-based energy to renewable energy," according to The Harvard Gazette.

The dramatic increase in EV numbers means that the potential battery market is huge. McKinsey projects that by 2040 battery demand from EVs produced in Europe will reach a total of 1,200GWh per year, which is enough for 80 gigafactories with an average capacity of 15GWh per year.

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