Stanford University researchers think they’ve stumbled upon a way to transform ordinary sheets of office paper into batteries and superconductors. By painting a carbon nanotube ink, which can collect electric charge, on plain copier paper, and then dipping the coated paper into a lithium ion solution and an electrolyte, they can create a current and store it within the paper battery.
The scientists had previously experimented with making batteries using a similar process of painting nanomaterial ink onto a thin layer of plastic. But in an unexpected twist, they found that pores in paper fibers make it hold the ink better than plastic, for a more durable battery [The New York Times]. The research team, led by Yi Cui, found that you can even crumple up the paper batteries or soak them in acid, and they’ll still work just fine. They hope their technology, which was reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, can usher in a new era of lightweight, low-cost batteries.
The creaky old electrical grid that carries power around the United States is inefficient, outmoded, and perilously prone to failures. To make a start at remedying the situation, President Obama will announce today the 100 utility projects that will share $3.4 billion in federal stimulus funding to speed deployment of advanced technology designed to cut energy use and make the electric-power grid more robust. When combined with funds from utility customers, the program is expected to inject more than $8 billion into grid modernization efforts nationally, administration officials said. “We have a very antiquated system that we need to upgrade,” said Carol Browner, energy coordinator for the Obama administration [The Wall Street Journal].
The projects include the installation of “smart meters,” which are more advanced than typical electricity meters. They use digital technology to deliver detailed usage data both to the customer and the utility, as well as adding displays in homes that tell customers about their electricity use [The New York Times]. This allows for real-time monitoring of electricity use so that customers can adjust their usage, for example by turning off devices during peak hours when electricity is most expensive.
Federal stimulus money will also go to projects that improve the efficiency of power lines and electric substations, and for next-generation transformers that can wirelessly communicate their condition, so that power plant operators get a warning before a part fails. Other projects will set the stage for the smooth introduction of large amounts of electricity from wind or solar sources into the transmission system [AP].
80beats: Google’s PowerMeter Bets That Knowledge Is Less Power (Consumption)
80beats: Google and GE Team Up to Save the U.S. Power Grid
DISCOVER: Building an Interstate Highway System for Energy
Image: flickr / srqpix
Google is testing a free web service that can turn average residents into all-seeing, all-knowing masters of their energy usage. The service, called PowerMeter, would allow people to track their household’s energy consumption online, and information about when electricity rates are high would allow them to adjust their habits and save money–say, by running a clothes dryer at night.
The service isn’t publicly available yet. Google will have to team up with electrical utility companies to get the usage information, and those utilities will have to first install “smart meters” that monitor usage in real-time. But with the current economic stimulus package providing money for the installation of 40 million smart meters, some say that the “smart grid” is inevitable. Basically, it appears that Google realizes that the smart grid is about to get a big boost from the government stimulus, and wants to make sure it has access to the inevitable mountain of data that results [Ars Technica].
A Google spokeswoman says she hopes the announcement will encourage other companies to work on smart grid technologies. “We can’t build this product all by ourselves,” said Kirsten Olsen Cahill, a program manager at Google.org, the company’s corporate philanthropy arm. “We depend on a whole ecosystem of utilities, device makers and policies that would allow consumers to have detailed access to their home energy use and make smarter energy decisions” [The New York Times]. Ultimately, experts say, home appliances like dishwashers could communicate wirelessly with Google’s PowerMeter or with utilities, which could tell the dishwasher when to turn on in order to save the most money.
Google and General Electric have announced a partnership aimed at upgrading the United States electric power grid and pushing forward the development of renewable energy. The companies plan to conduct a joint lobbying effort in Washington to encourage the government to invest in developing a “smart grid,” and will also work together on projects like geothermal energy systems and integrating plug-in electric cars into the grid. The deal combines each company’s strengths: GE will make the hardware — from wind turbines to metering switches, and Google will make the software — applying network technologies to the grid [Portfolio].
The announcement follows a speech given two weeks ago by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, in which he laid out a blueprint for how the United States could switch over to generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030, while also eliminating half of the gasoline-powered cars from the roads. While Google hasn’t offered to follow through on that comprehensive proposal, which carried the hefty price tag of $2.7 billion, the partnership with GE seems to indicate that Google wants to put many of its suggestions into practice.