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Real Power Bipartisanship

A company in Salt Lake City has announced a new battery that can store enough energy to run your house, and is cheap enough (projected cost $2,000) and has a long enough life (10 years) to make it practical and profitable.

The new battery would make it economical for homes to generate and store their own energy. Even homes that do not generate their own energy from alternative sources such as solar cells (which are rapidly declining in price) or small windmills could charge the batteries using cheap, off-peak power from the grid.

This has stunning implications for our nation’s energy situation. It would solve the huge problem of our aging electrical grid by creating a distributed energy network that doesn’t require moving so much power around on expensive and unsightly power lines. A distributed system would be much harder for terrorists to sabotage than our current centralized system. And much of our current power generation capacity is only used for short periods of peak demand, and sits idle the rest of the time. With batteries smoothing out the demand for power, we could use our current facilities more efficiently, avoiding the need to build new power plants and power lines. All of this means cheaper power and less pollution. And less dependence on foreign oil.

So what is this news doing in a political blog? First of all, the company that is creating this stunning new technology is CoorsTek, founded by Adolph Coors, the same guy who started the well-known beer company. Through the years, the Coors empire has been major funders of right-wing organizations, including the John Birch society, the Heritage Foundation, and an assortment of pro-religion, anti-science organizations.

But today, the great-grandson of Adolph Coors, Grover Coors, is working on the new battery technology. He has a Ph.D. and specializes in solid-state ionics and advanced materials. Grover’s brother, John K. Coors, is the CEO of CoorsTek, and their nephew, Doug Coors, oversees R&D.

Second, one of the main advisors to CoorsTek is Chris Cannon, the former congressman from Utah County (arguably the most conservative district in America). Cannon is not just there for political advice, he has a strong background in energy and manufacturing. And he now calls himself a “post-partisan Republican”, saying:

If you look at the president, he inherited some really difficult things. But he hired a guy to be the secretary of energy who is a scientist. And we are on the verge of so many scientific breakthroughs that no matter what the president’s ideology is, if we do the right thing scientifically, America is going to do well. Many of the innovations that are coming out of Utah that I’m involved with are likely to be really important, regardless of the leadership.

So while current Republicans in Congress criticized Obama’s energy proposals as “economic back-breakers”, Cannon is taking advantage of those proposals to create a new, more vibrant economy.

The technology could mean a lot of things, but it certainly means that we change the way we invest. It also means that we shift our expenditures on terrorism, because our infrastructure for power transmission is probably the weakest link in America today. If you have local batteries with local control, that gives terrorists a more difficult target. And local control systems are much simpler than a vast national transmission grid.

And finally, the new battery is based on sodium, a toxic material that is a byproduct in the production of nuclear weapons. The US government just happens to have enormous quantities of sodium at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington, which it needs to clean up safely. So in a way, the batteries are made from materials recycled from nuclear bomb production!



  1. I want one!

    So, back to one of the more oft-repeated questions lately: are Obama’s strong attempts to develop bi-partisianship working? Is this “post-partisan Republican”ism something that will mature?

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  2. iamafractal wrote:

    We can have batteries that don’t have toxic chemicals like sodium in them.

    There are now bacteria that are being bred that generate electricity from sewage. there are microscopic plankton that can use the air to make gasoline, thus creating a cycle for carbon, rather than a one-way burning of it.

    The sun drops onto our planet 6000 times as much energy as we use. every 40 minutes, it drops enough energy onto the earth to supply all of humanity for all of its needs for a year, including transportation and manufacturing, heating, cooling, and everything else. if we can get rid of energy monopolies, we are right on the cusp of amazing times.

    batteries are a very important part of having a totally decentralized power generation infrastructure. with such a thing we can do for electricity what the internet did for data… make it practically free.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  3. Roy Laughlin wrote:

    On your battery entry: It’s made from toxic sodium and the Hanford Energy Lab has plenty of it? Do you mean radioactive sodium?

    Sodium chloride is the salt in the sea. Its’ not particularly toxic. Ever taste sweat? Tastes salty, from sodium chloride in your blood that goes into sweat.

    You could make a sodium battery like you make lithium batteries, I suppose, and they could be almost efficient as long as they stayed sealed up. Like lithium batteries. Expose the sodium metal inside to water or water vapor and it burns. Is that a toxic effect you’re talking about?
    Or this story could be a major media manipulation effort.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  4. starluna wrote:

    The purest forms of most elements, including sodium, are toxic. It is when they combine with other elements and form different types of molecules that they become non-toxic. This is what happens when sodium hooks up with chlorine (another nasty one on its own) to make salt. Pure sodium, like pure chlorine, is quite toxic.

    But the point that sodium is widely available is a good one.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink
  5. starluna wrote:

    This is potentially a very exciting development. I do pro bono policy work for environmental justice organizations. The big fear from EJ communities is that the green economy revolution is going to pass them by. This could be a game changer if production, installation, and maintenance could be directed towards these communities.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    Some of the most toxic substances are hydrocarbons, made from hydrogen and carbon, both of which are perfectly safe by themselves. Sodium combines with chlorine (which is very toxic) to form sodium chloride, which is just common salt.

    Most batteries contain materials that are toxic. Common car batteries are full of lead and sulfuric acid, both dangerous and toxic. As battery materials go, sodium is relatively safe. Perhaps I should not have called it toxic at all, but it in its metallic form it is highly reactive with water and converts to sodium hydroxide when exposed to moisture, which is corrosive.

    But the whole point of this post is that there is hope for bipartisanship! How cool is that?

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  7. Eva wrote:

    Have three marine batteries so far along with the DC/AC converter (which then goes back to DC for the computer) I looked into windmills which don’t work if the power is out. What is wrong with that picture? We are on an aging 53 house grid. I’m ready for 24 hours outage now. Would happily pay $2000 for the battery pack. Could you include the URL for their Web Site?

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    The link to the original story was right at the top of my post.

    But here’s some direct links to the company:

    Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink