Wednesday, September 1, 2010
These are exciting times in the world of batteries
Batteries play a major and very under-rated role in our everyday lives. With many “green” technologies dependent on battery power storage(think electric cars and reliable, on-demand supply to the grid from wind and solar power installations) the importance of batteries will only grow. These are the reasons I am bullish on battery stocks even though the general market seems to be taking a much more wait-and-see approach.
Some of the companies that I invest in on my current watch list involved in battery production include Advanced Battery Technology(ABAT), Braskem SA(BAK), Valence Technology(VLNC), Ener1(HEV) and A123 Systems(AONE). I usually own shares in at least one of these companies. These companies cover a range from traditional lead-acid batteries to ever-more-common lithium-ion batteries to cutting-edge research on totally new power storage solutions. All of these technologies will play a big role in the coming years.
One exciting recent discovery took place at MIT. A common virus was used as a bio-template for preparing lithium ion battery anodes and cathodes in plain water at room temperature. Batteries produced this way could be made into any shape, including woven into fabrics. Imagine wearing a rechargeable vest that could power a laptop and smart-phone. This technology would also allow the outer casing of a camera or phone to double as the battery. The process eliminates the need for high temperatures and noxious chemicals during the battery manufacturing contest and the batteries stay much cooler during use, reducing the chances of fires(remember those laptops bursting into flames?).
Philadelphia is about to start a project with a novel use of batteries – subway stops will be equipped with high-capacity batteries(1-1.5MW) to capture electrical power produced by the brakes of the trains approaching the stations. The power stored in the batteries will then be reused to accelerate the trains as they leave. The new system is expected to save the city a considerable amount on its power bill and might even be able to feed some power back into the grid. The Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority has awarded a $900,000 grant to Viridity Energy to construct the system. It is expected to be in use by next spring.
Xcel Energy is already using a bank of sulfur/sodium batteries from NGK Insulators of Japan to smooth out the supply of electricity from an 11MW Minnesota wind farm. The batteries can store 7.2MW-hours of power. They are the size of two semi trailers and weigh 80 tons. Price of the batteries was $4-million. Xcel is planning to test a similar battery bank with a large solar array near the Denver airport.