This small notice from WIRED tipped me off to what seemed like a new technology for energy storage – compressed air. In a nutshell it is possible to store energy in ‘batteries’ that are big pistons compressed by whatever form of energy is being tapped. The process generates a significant amount of heat that can be retained and released at a later point. Of course, as with any battery, there is going to be some energy loss. The key to this latest effort from Danielle Fong and LightSail is that believe they can double the efficiency of the technology by using water vapor as a heat sink.
This latest notice serves as a reminder that once again, new technology isn’t necessarily new. Such compressed air batteries have been used before (page 252-253), and as recently as 1991 an energy company in the U.S. made a go of this technology. In 2010 several large utility projects were approved, but neither they nor the private-sector efforts at compressed air energy storage have yet to make a dent in the market.
Even if the economic, political and technical barriers come down, this technology would not be a replacement so much as a tool to fill in the gaps between power generating capabilities and demands. But it would be nice to have additional tools available to address the ever-growing demand for energy. (And it would be lovely if Fong could manage to get a working automobile running on her compressed air batteries.)