GE is now developing a more durable and long lasting battery that charges more quickly. It will make off-grid power generation more efficient and help utilities incorporate power from a wide range of sources including solar and wind power.
A $100 million battery factory was recently opened by GE to make this new kind of battery based on sodium and nickel. The factory is expected to employ 450 people; it is located in Schenectady, New York.
Jeffrey Immelt, GE CEO, predicts the cost of electricity will go down because GE’s new battery is going to give utilities the ability to use a multitude of different technologies. This is a part of GE’s commitment to stay on top by developing and marketing new and better grid battery technologies.
Megatron Federal, a South African company, will be the first to use these batteries to power cell phone towers in Nigeria. Diesel generators previously powered these towers.
Brandon Harcus, division manager of Megatron Federal, says pairing the generators with GE’s new batteries will help them run more efficiently. The company will be able to save 53 percent on fuel, 45 percent on maintenance, and around 60 percent on diesel generator replacements. These savings amount to $1.3 million over 20 years per cell tower. In addition, there will be less carbon produced with less fuel.
In this type of application, GE’s new battery gives two main advantages over lead-acid battery. The first is shorter charging time of over two hours compared to ten hour with the latter battery. The second is temperature requirements, the new battery does not require air conditioning compared to most other batteries.
The new battery could also store power from wind turbines and solar panels. It can even out fluctuations in these power sources, especially when it is used in microgrids.
The only disadvantage is that the new battery is more expensive per kilowatt-hour than lead-acid batteries. However, it is more cost-efficient in the end since it can last longer. In applications where batteries are deeply discharged on a regular basis, lead-acid batteries usually last only six months. In contrast, the new battery could last through a decade of daily charging. It is designed to survive being deeply discharged at least 3,500 times.
The technology for this battery was first developed in South Africa after the oil crisis in the 1980s. It was designed for transportation applications; it was even used to power a Mercedes test vehicle at one point. However, the research was discontinued when oil prices dropped and interest in alternatives for oil-powered cars waned. GE acquired the technology in 2007 and further developed it.
The new battery uses a ceramic electrolyte material that separates electrodes. When the battery is charging, chloride ions from sodium chloride reacts with nickel to form nickel chloride. The sodium ions left behind move through the electrolyte into a reservoir. When the battery produces power, ions move back through the electrolyte and the reaction is reversed. The reaction takes place at about 3000C inside an insulated container.