Over the years, NASA has developed many useful and interesting technologies: flat screen monitors, memory foam mattresses, new insulation and power systems, compact and powerful cameras that today find a place in our smartphones and others. NASA's latest spinoff, though, may be the most significant. By redesigning one of NASA's most innovative experiments, MOXIE, NASA engineers have managed to create an extraordinary battery: carbon-oxygen.
But let's take a step back
For those who have not recovered the post of Futuroprossimo that talks about it, MOXIE is a NASA experiment that is part of the Perseverance mission to Mars. Its purpose is to transform Mars' carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into breathable air: In 2021, MOXIE hit the milestone and established itself as the first device to create the vital supply of oxygen needed for a base on Mars.
A crucial advance towards creating a technology that can sustain human life on distant planets. And here we come to the point: the engineers who worked on MOXIE realized that the fuel cell can be used both as a generator and as an energy store. Result? a battery powered by carbon and oxygen was born.
Carbon-oxygen: in space and on earth
Sensing its potential already in 2018, Chris Graves, one of the lead engineers of the MOXIE project, left NASA to found Noon Energy with the aim of developing carbon-oxygen batteries for the mass market.
In summary, Noon has developed a technology that is certain of its functioning thanks to experiments on the NASA device. Intuition and subject matter knowledge have given Noon a definite edge over other startups.
How does the carbon-oxygen battery work?
Each battery consists of two pressurized gas tanks, pressure regulators, compressors and a solid oxide electrolyser cell. To charge it, a voltage is applied to the fuel cell, which splits the carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen. This mixture is stored in the second tank. To discharge the battery, the gas mixture flows into the cell, recombining to produce carbon dioxide and generate electricity.
Most importantly, Noon has already made and enhanced these batteries: last month it raised $28 million in funding to get the device on the market by 2025.
Yes, but is it good?
You do it: this battery does not use heavy metals and stores energy inside natural gas, with a very low environmental impact. It's surprisingly energy-dense and incredibly cheap. Need anything else?
Maybe some reference data
To give you an idea, the Panasonic 21700 cell used by Tesla for its Model 3 LR costs around 137 euros ($151) per kWh and has an energy density of 247 Wh/L. Noon's carbon-oxygen battery costs 13 euros ($70) per kWh and has an energy density of 15,10 Wh/L. In two words: it is 90% cheaper and with three times the energy density.
On the environmental impact: if we replaced the battery in a Tesla Model 3 LR with Noon's carbon-oxygen battery, its 82 kWh capacity would increase to 247 kWh, tripling the range.
The cost of the battery? It would drop from about $12.382 to $3.729,70. A car that costs almost 9000 euros less, with a range that exceeds 1500 kilometers (948 miles).
It's not possible: there's something going on.
Well yes. There is more than one aspect to consider, actually.
First: carbon-oxygen batteries have a limited autonomy of about 100 hours (4 days), then they begin to discharge by themselves. It can be solved, right?
According to: to achieve faster charging times you need to increase the size, but this defeats the economy and perhaps even the form factor of cars: imagine cars with a "hump" for the battery?
It is clear that to see a carbon-oxygen battery on electric vehicles we have to wait longer than the two years foreseen. We may never see them, but here's the rub: they're meant for something else.
Carbon-oxygen: the dawn of a new energy grid
The peak of wind and solar energy production does not coincide with the peak of energy demand: for this reason the renewable future of our planet sees the use of large batteries to store energy.
Today, energy sources such as nuclear, which are still part of the game, can be used to refill mains batteries when they run out. In a (desirable) future of only renewables, batteries will be needed and they cannot be lithium-ion ones, because they would be prohibitively expensive.
The carbon-oxygens, yes: they can become protagonists. They can make possible an energy grid powered by ultra-low-emission, fully renewable energy.
Apparently, the message we've been waiting for from space has arrived: from MOXIE has come an amazing solution that could soon be at the heart of our energy grids.
A doubly amazing technology: help save this planet and explore others. Tell that to anyone who still wonders what space missions are for.