Danielle Fong: how to store the world’s excess energy
July 3, 2012 | Source: Wired Enterprise
A company called LightSail Energy aims to store the world’s excess energy in giant tanks of compressed air.
The goal is to plug these tanks into wind and solar farms, so that they can squirrel away energy for times when it’s most needed, much like reservoirs store rain water.
The wind and the sun are prime sources of renewable energy, but they generate power unpredictably. LightSail’s compressed air tanks, says Danielle Fong, chief scientist and co-founder,will make the power grid that much more efficient — and ultimately make the world a greener place.
Backed by $15 million in funding from green-minded venture capital outfit Khosla Partners and with a team of 32 employees, LightSail is pushing ahead with its plan to reinvent the power grid. Fong believes the potential market for compressed air tanks will exceed $1 trillion over the next 20 years.
LightSail’s prototype sprays a dense mist into the compressed air tanks, and this absorbs the heat produced during compression. Water can store heat far more efficiently than air, and with this mist, Fong says, the prototype more easily stores and releases power. According to Fong, her system doubles the efficiency of compressed air, from about 35 percent to roughly 70 percent.
Fong envisions a power grid that behaves more like the Internet, where resources are evenly distributed across the world and they can be readily accessed whenever they’re needed. Fong hopes to provide a level of efficiency the world has never seen, especially in large countries like India and China, where power grids are less developed.
She says that some of the company’s initial targets include Third World countries, isolated towns and islands that operate without power grids and depend on diesel generators and other local power sources. Much of the wattage generated by these sources is wasted, she says, and her compressed air tanks can turn things around. But she’s eying the United States as well.