SAN JOSE, Calif. Intel researchers are exploring nanoscale materials that could be used to create ultracapacitors with a greater energy density than today's lithium ion batteries. If successful, the new materials could be mass produced in volumes to power systems ranging from mobile devices to electric vehicles—even smart grid storage units.
The project is one of a handful in the works at a seven-person energy systems research lab formed by Intel Corp. in May. The lab is focused on so-called microgrids, small local electric grids that lab director Tomm Aldridge and others believe could represent the future of the smart electric grid.
"It's way too early to announce any results, but we are taking what we think is a fresh look at building ultracapacitors using our expertise in nanomaterials fabrication and high volume manufacturing," said Aldridge. "The research targets are to exceed energy storage of battery technology in terms of energy density and figure out how to assemble these nano-capacitors into ultracapacitors that have useful voltage ranges," he added.
Director of Energy Systems Research, Intel
The energy-storage effort is exploring use of engineered dielectric coatings to create the capacitors that could be scaled to large arrays. MIT, Stanford and other universities are also exploring nanoscale ultracapacitors as a medium as an alternative with longer life time and more resilience to harsh conditions than traditional batteries.
Aldridge pitched to Intel Labs managers the idea for a team focused on issues in microgrids which some believe are a viable alternative to today's centralized grids run by utilities. "I was becoming interested in smart grids and scalable microgrids as a research topic and felt Intel needed to have a voice in the debate backed up by research," he said.
"My perception is we are at the infancy of being able to define a comprehensive smart grid strategy that includes end-user control and benefit," said Aldrich. "Microgrids in emerging economies and new policies and practices allowing collaboration between microgrids in data and energy flow will be exciting areas," he said.
The lab is exploring topics on the architecture of microgrids, including energy sensing, smart buildings and interconnects for plug-in vehicles. Aldrich's team also will host as many as a dozen researchers at a new lab at Intel's Rio Rancho, New Mexico campus as part of the New Mexico Green Grid Initiative.
The Rio Rancho campus is also one of eight locations where Intel recently announced it will install a total of 2.5 MegaWatts of solar power capacity. "We are looking at Rio Rancho as a living experiment in microgrids," he said.