In a country like India, where 80% of the electricity is produced by burning coal, oil and natural gas (International Energy Agency 2021), the demand for fossil fuels is set to increase in the coming years. When fossil fuels are burned, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air. It is known that greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere, causing global warming. Decarbonising energy usage through renewable sources is a step in the right direction. But most renewable sources produce energy sporadically.
We need fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to advance sustainable methods to store energy and ensure a stable power supply (Mulhern 2021). Women are becoming a force to reckon with in the field of energy storage. As an organization committed to furthering the cause of safety, security and sustainability, we spotlight three phenomenal women, their respective fields within the realm of energy storage, and career opportunities in this space.
Imagine a material with the ability to store heat and cold energy from around its environment and dispense it at need. Dr. Sumanjeet Kaur at Lawrence Berkeley National laboratory is working on perfecting such materials at affordable prices (“Women’s History: Researchers in Energy Storage | Batterytechonline.Com” n.d.). By installing these materials in building walls, the temperature inside buildings can be adjusted by releasing the stored energy. They cause almost no pollution and reduce CO2 emissions (Sarbu and Sebarchievici 2018).
As an up-and-coming field, plenty of opportunities are available in developing materials and possible combinations of such materials for better storage efficiency and release of energy (Ge et al., 2014).
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Using hydrogen in batteries produces only electricity and water as by-products, and the efficiency of such cells can be as high as 60% (“Fuel Cells | Department of Energy” n.d.). If hydrogen fuel cells are implemented in vehicles, we can effectively move around without saturating our environment with carbon dioxide (“Hydrogen Fuel Cell: Overview of Where We’re at in Hydrocarbon Replacement” n.d.). Dr. Sunita Satyapal is one notable scientist who works on improving the durability, efficiency and cost management of fuel cells. She is the director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies (“Sunita Satyapal | Department of Energy” n.d.).
Safe hydrogen production and storage and fuel cell compactness are some of the career trajectories women can take up in the field (“Hydrogen Storage Challenges | Department of Energy” n.d.).
Flow batteries generate electricity by pumping charged electrolytes — in contrast to electrodes dipped in a stationary electrolyte as in traditional batteries (Garg 2012). These batteries are able to undergo multiple charge and discharge cycles during the day. Their slow rate of discharge is ideal for solar and wind power sources (Scroggin-Wicker and McInerney 2020). Maria Skylla-Kasacos is an engineer turned scientist, who revolutionised the field by developing vanadium flow batteries. An emeritus professor at University of New South Wales, Australia, not only did she reduce the cost of flow batteries by a big margin, but also showed that batteries can be fire safe and non-detrimental to the environment (“The Accidental Engineer Who Invented the Vanadium Sustainable Battery | ATSE” 2020).
Following the footsteps of Skylla-Kasacos, young women can revolutionise the field yet again by improving the energy density of these batteries to tolerate the peak energy production periods of the sun and wind (Garg 2012).
Currently, women only comprise 22% of the energy sector workforce (“Energy and Gender – Topics - IEA” n.d.). The above examples demonstrate that women have the innovation, potential and vision to significantly improve the ongoing energy crisis. With more women embracing opportunities within the energy storage and sustainability realms, the torch is set to move forward.
And to all women out there dreaming of building a world with clean energy, here are some wise words from Babu Chalamala, the head of the Energy Storage Technology and Systems Department at Sandia National Laboratories in the USA (“50 Global Leaders for Energy Storage and E-Mobility” n.d.): “We are amid a major transformation in the electricity industry with a central role for energy storage in grid modernization, renewable integration, and electrification. This is an exciting time to be in energy storage.”