Using everything from water to cement to gravity, scientists and engineers have been working to achieve what other experts have always described as impossible.
But at the University of Berlin, Martin E. Suchy and colleagues are giving it a try. They have created a container made of various materials that captures the wind and solar energy through which it flows, acting as a giant battery.
In fact, rather than a single, metallic container with an array of solar panels on top, This Could be the Future of Wind and Solar Energy — A 1,000-KW Solar and Wind Storage Container, they have designed a system that allows gravity to control its internal equilibrium. Their work appears in the online early edition of the journal Nature Communications.
Suchy’s team created a prototype solar cell and a laboratory wind turbine that operate independently to store energy generated by wind and solar power and convert it back into electrical energy. Their tests on a scale equivalent to about 100 kilowatts showed the various methods work together to harness the flow of energy in the way of a power system.
Depending on the type of solar cell, researchers could filter out the light from the solar cell and use that filtered incoming solar energy to capture any energy flowing past the wind turbine — a procedure that had been thought impossible because of electromagnetic interference.
What makes their system so important, Suchy says, is that it allows other technologies — basically all electronic devices — to be kept powered. In particular, this means businesses can store information in a “cloud” where it can be accessed in the event of a power outage.
While this is a long way from commercially viable hardware, Suchy adds, it’s a key step towards the day when people could store information for periods of time in mind-boggling quantities of energy.
“Our real goal is that in the future we can achieve reliable storage of energy in even limited amounts of our planet,” Suchy says. “We are moving in this direction right now. Our machine is not at the technology level, it’s at the optimization level. We have started doing this already. This will lead to smaller micro-grid systems and mobile backup networks. The really exciting thing is that we need something for humankind to do, something that addresses these aspects.”
Full disclosure: Bernard Marr, our former senior editor, now oversees Energy and Business at Businessweek.