Henk Rogers, Blue Planet Energy: Page 2 of 2
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At the grid level, lead-acid batteries account for just a fraction of a percentage of energy...
Blue Planet Energy designed its lithium iron phosphate (LFP) energy storage platform to optimize...
Energy storage systems are an essential enabling technology that allows for the increasing...
SP: What energy storage technology did you use to go off-grid?
HR: We are using Sony lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. They can go from a 100% state of charge down to zero, and they can do that for 20 years. With lead-acid batteries, you can use only half of the battery capacity, and you might get 3–5 years. Lithium-ion batteries also take up way less space than lead-acid. The problem with some lithium-ion chemistries is that they catch on fire under certain conditions. That is true of the batteries in my laptop, my phone and even my car, my Tesla. Take NMC batteries, for example, which use nickel, manganese and cobalt. Cobalt is a bad actor. Once it catches fire, it produces its own oxygen, meaning once the fire starts, it’s unstoppable. That’s fine for my car, because I trust Elon to have safety mechanisms in place. And if my car burns down, I’m fairly sure he will give me a new one. But if it’s in my house, where my children and grandchildren sleep, I’m just not into that. That fire is contagious, meaning a fire in one battery can set other batteries next to it on fire. That’s a fundamental difference between the LFP batteries we chose to use and other types of lithium-ion chemistries. Iron and phosphate are both benign chemicals that cannot overheat. You cannot overcharge these batteries, and they do not catch on fire if they get punctured.
SP: You started Blue Planet Energy to commercialize LFP-type Li-ion batteries for residential energy storage applications. What is your company’s flagship product?
HR: Blue Plant Energy’s product is Blue Ion, which gives you 16 kWh of storage in a package the size of a small wine refrigerator. The Blue Ion does not require any cooling system or any kind of fire suppressant. It will never overheat or catch on fire or endanger your house. It will just sit there for 20 years, and you can charge it to 100% and discharge it to zero on a daily basis. There’s nothing else out there that will last that long. We package the Blue Ion in an off-the-shelf server cabinet rather than a fancy box and pass those savings right through to the customer.
Sony started making lithium-ion batteries in 1991 and came out with LFP batteries about 10 years ago. Within the last year, Sony sold its battery division to Murata. Sony is moving in the direction of content rather than electronics. Murata makes its money from electronic components, including many that are inside your iPhone. They want to own the global battery business. We are going to help make that happen.
SP: The US is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of its residential energy storage market. What’s it going to take for this to change?
HR: Battery prices are going to come down, just like computer processing power improves over time. All these different technologies are competing, with new technologies coming out of universities. The battery business is going to be a multibillion-dollar business within a couple years. Everybody is starting to smell that. All we need to do is bring the most reasonable technology to market.
I’m positive that things will change a lot faster than people think. We created a piece of legislation in Hawaii to help the solar industry by giving tax credits. The best estimates said that we would have 30 MW of solar in a couple years. Instead, we had 300 MW with 200 companies installing solar. Once these things get going, they happen so much faster than people believe they are going to. So there is hope.
SP: Commercializing energy storage isn’t your only moon-shot project, so to speak. You are also literally helping to develop an International MoonBase. How did you get involved with these efforts?
HR: The MoonBase project is another one of my life missions. Mission number one is to end the use of carbon-based fuels. Number two is to end war. It’s not so much that wars kill people—we’ve gotten very efficient at war and many fewer people die—but that we spend huge amounts of money on them. We’ve spent more money in Afghanistan than we spent in the entire history of NASA, including Alan Shepard’s first manned flight, the Apollo program, the space shuttle, the International Space Station and the Mars rover. Think about how much technology came out of that space effort, including solar panels. But what do we have to show for the war in Afghanistan? We basically borrowed money from our children and gave it to the military industrial complex. It’s a ridiculous waste of money. If we just could have spent that money on fixing climate change, we’d have solved the problem.
So mission number three is to make a backup of life on Earth. We live life on Earth in a biosphere that is only a couple miles thick. That living biosphere is equivalent to the skin of an apple, where everything inside and outside the skin is dead. We’re seriously messing around with that skin, changing it drastically. The Earth has already undergone several extinction events. The next event of that magnitude is going to happen to us. The first step to preserving a backup of life as we know it on other planets is to go to the moon and have a permanent settlement. Then we go to Mars and make a settlement and live there sustainably. In the meantime, maybe we figure out how to do interstellar travel, and we find planets that are more Earth-like than the moon or Mars and we go there. Who knows?
To get off the planet, we need to practice here on Earth. Hawaii is an ideal test site because it just so happens to be made out of the same stuff as the moon. Regolith is basically powdered basalt. Our volcanoes create basalts. The moon created basalt 5 billion years ago. So our basalt is new; its basalt is old. But if we take basalt here, grind it up and use it to 3-D–print structures, we can do the same thing on the moon. All we need is energy, which we already know how to generate. With PV, we will be able to 3-D–print structures on the moon. And by the way, if we can learn to survive on the moon, Mars and other places, we will know how to live sustainably here on Earth.