US-based firm EnerVenue is developing long-lasting, sustainable battery technology for Earth based on the engineering and chemistry Nasa has used for more than 40 years to power the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope, and more, it has been revealed. 

The company believes its technology could replace traditional batteries in the long term. "Our technology is much safer than lithium-ion," said EnerVenue CEO Jorg Heinemann.

 An artist's impression of EnerVenue's Energy Storage Vessels.. Image: EnerVenue

Leveraging space battery longevity and durability

The idea behind EnerVenue's technology comes from work carried out by Stanford University professor Yi Cui, who is also the startup's chairman and chief technology adviser. Cui figured out how to adapt Nasa's long-duration nickel-hydrogen battery technology for viable use on Earth by using materials that dramatically drove down costs.

Nasa's nickel-hydrogen battery technology is well-suited to space because it can withstand harsh conditions, including fast-changing extreme temperatures. The batteries are safe and also last for a very long time. They are also fully recyclable, produce no toxic waste, and their chemistry results in no fire risk. 

The one glaring issue when it comes to bringing technology to Earth is that they are incredibly expensive to produce. 

However, EnerVenue has developed a method for making metal-hydrogen batteries at a reduced cost and has met high demand from utilities and energy developers.

"EnerVenue's Energy Storage Vessels are currently being deployed at utility test sites across the United States," said Heinemann. "These sites serve to validate EnerVenue’s claims and are precursors for grid-scale integration. In parallel, EnerVenue is selling into industrial markets – including customers in maritime operations, oil and gas, mining, and as a replacement for diesel in island-based applications."

The firm recently also announced it will open a one-million-square-foot Gigafactory in the US. It says the gigafactory will produce its Energy Storage Vessels batteries, capable of more than 30,000 recharge cycles each. These can be stored in racks and are able to operate for up to 30 years.

Nickel-hydrogen versus lithium-ion

In the short term, EnerVenue sees its technology helping with the deployment of intermittent renewable energy, including solar and wind.

"Storage plays a key role in making sure excess generation is captured and then used when needed, resulting in a less carbon-intensive energy mix and a more stable energy supply," said Heinemann. 

This strategy sees EnerVenue take a similar approach to Costa Rica firm Ad Astra, which also leverages the expertise of its founder, former Space Shuttle astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz. In the long term, though, the company believes its technology could come into people's homes, providing another excellent example of how space technologies can become ubiquitous.

"Our technology is much safer than lithium-ion," said Heinemann, "it provides far greater flexibility in terms of how often and how long it can be discharged, and it lasts more than three times as long while retaining nearly all of its original capacity."

"Longer term, EnerVenue also sees application for its technology in the residential space. With so much attention on the potential fire dangers posed by lithium-ion batteries, we believe there’s a significant market for a home battery that is fire-safe, whose lifespan exceeds 30 years, and can actually be built into otherwise unused parts of the structure, such as crawl spaces and attics."

It's a tall order, but if EnerVenue can deliver on that promise, it could go a long way towards mitigating the well-documented problems with lithium-ion batteries from a safety, sustainability, and ethical perspective.