Steam Punk Remakes Power Grid With Compressed Air
An early drawing of the first prototype built by Danielle Fong and LightSail — a device that uses excess electrical power to compress and store large amounts of air in a small space. This compress air can then be used to generate energy when it’s actually needed. According to LightSail, the prototype can reproduce about 70 percent of the energy put in to it.
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Danielle Fong was 12 years old when her mother decided she should go to college. Danielle’s teachers didn’t agree. Though an aptitude test put her above 99 percent of students who had already graduated from high school, her teachers said the move to college would ruin her education. But her mother sent her anyway. “Why would I conceivably put my child through six more years of that bullshit?” remembers Danielle’s mother, Trudy Fong, who was 15 when she herself went to college. “I didn’t bring my kid into the world to have her tortured — and be treated like dirt for being brilliant.”
Little more than a decade later — after graduating from Canada’s Dalhousie University and then dropping out of the Ph.D. program at the Princeton plasma physics lab when she decided academic research was as broken as grade school — Danielle Fong is the chief scientist and co-founder of a company called LightSail Energy. Based in Berkeley, California, this tiny startup is built on an idea that’s as unorthodox as Fong’s education. LightSail aims to store the world’s excess energy in giant tanks of compressed air. The goal is to plug these tanks into wind and solar farms, so that they can squirrel away energy for times when it’s most needed, much like reservoirs store rain water. The wind and the sun are prime sources of renewable energy, but they generate power unpredictably. LightSail’s compressed air tanks, Fong and company say, will make the power grid that much more efficient — and ultimately make the world a greener place.