One of the largest challenges for green energy is storing electricity once it is generated by unreliable sources such as wind and sunlight.
When the wind stops blowing and the sun isn’t shining, electricity consumers not on the typical grid still need a reliable source of power.
We get a fair amount of phone calls from people living off the grid who want to use forklift batteries to store electricity produced by their solar panels or wind turbines.
The callers see that forklift batteries can store several hours of energy and put out enough amps to keep their refrigerators running. But the cost, delivery logistics, and life span of forklift batteries usually make the idea too difficult to turn into reality.
Fortunately researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Energy Innovation Center are working on new solutions for batteries that have more capacity and have a longer useful life.
The Energy Innovation Center fosters the development of and promotes clean, efficient and sustainable energy solutions and technologies.
Prashant Kumta, an engineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh who is leading that school’s energy storage efforts, will be taking over a section of the Energy Innovation Center this fall to develop battery storage technology that can be presented to companies who may potentially invest in further development and attempt to commercialize Mr. Kumta’s efforts.
Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon, a leading research university, has also been active in battery storage technology. In 2009 Dr. Jay Whitacre spun out Aquion Energy, a Pittsburgh-based company that manufacturers salt-water batteries for off-grid, micro-grid and commercial uses.
Aquion’s batteries are safe for use in homes, require little maintenance, and have no harmful materials or noxious fumes like lead acid batteries. They are also non-flammable and non-explosive.
Axion Power, another Pittsburgh-based company, manufacturers an advanced lead-acid-carbon hybrid battery for use in a large number of applications including motive power such as forklifts.
Axion has found that it’s lead-acid-carbon hybrid battery can withstand more cycles than a typical lead-acid battery. And compared to lithium-ion batteries is also much safer and cheaper.
The forklift industry has relied on lead-acid batteries to power electric forklifts for decades. There are a few users with forklifts fitted with hydrogen fuel cells and some forklift manufacturers are developing lithium-ion technology. But hydrogen fuel cells require a massive up-front investment and so only users with large fleets can justify the cost. And lithium-ion has not become a viable alternative for all users either.
So for now the lead-acid battery reigns for forklifts. But with the bright researchers in Pittsburgh developing new technologies, we may see a power storage solution developed for something like home use, automobiles, or locomotives find its way into the material handling industry.