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INL researchers work to develop new mass-storage batteries

It may not always be on your mind, but the idea of just how to store and re-use energy is a huge undertaking for researchers.

Right now in eastern Idaho, some very bright minds are working to develop storage solutions — basically batteries — for energy created by wind and solar power generators.

“Energy storage requires lots of space,” said Idaho National Lab researcher Tom Baldwin.

Baldwin has to think big.

“When you talk about batteries, it’s more than just the size of an automotive battery,” he said.

Baldwin is the front line of scientists working to harness the power of the sun and the wind.

“Those resources are at the beck and call of nature,” said Baldwin.

He said the task to harness the power is no easy order.

“We have to take that energy and put it somewhere,” he said.

Humans have long stored natural energy. Systems like the Ashton Dam were built to house and regulate the power generated by great streams of water.

Water is a resource that can be held back, or let go at any time. But wind and solar energy are much different.

“When you have wind and solar there’s not a lake behind the dam that we can utilize for the source of energy,” said Baldwin.

So scientists essentially have to develop a massive storage system to house the energy generated from wind and solar for later.

“Typically 5 to 10 tractor trailer-size containers would be necessary for small to moderately-sized storage system,” said Baldwin.

INL researchers are developing a control system called SCADA, a sophisticated computer system to get the power to consumers.

It’s important work, because the he world could go dark without it. Baldwin said energy created by wind and solar power is fleeting.

“That energy either has to be consumed or not be produced,” said Baldwin.

The research facilities where scientists are developing SCADA have only just been completed near the Center for Advanced Energy Studies.

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