PhD candidate gives presentation on renewable energy


Claire R., Senior Editor in Chief

How much do you know about the energy you use? And how can it become renewable and sustainable? On April 26th, Eshaan Patheria gave an online seminar on zoom about the chemistry behind renewable energy to teachers and students from the Effect and Chimeía clubs. 

Patheria is a Ph.D. student candidate at CalTech, a university in America. His research focus is on energy poverty, and he works with a non-profit organization based in India called GramVikas to improve the unsatisfactory rural energy and infrastructure.

Energy poverty is found primarily in remote locations without access to basic services, such as phone lines, main roads, or the internet. His personal project to rectify this issue was in a town called Malegaon. Patheria and the charity he works with initially brought lead-acid batteries to this town, which functioned until 2009. However, these batteries ended up failing because the rigorous maintenance procedures were difficult to upkeep. About six years later, they were replaced with more compact lithium-ion batteries to be more sustainable in the long term. Lithium-ion batteries, Patheria explained, “store twice as much energy than the original batteries [did].” 

One issue Patheria faced was how to effectively integrate technology with the human needs of the villagers. The locals stated that they wanted to incorporate technology with their education, agriculture, livelihoods, health, and construction. The lithium-ion batteries have provided the villagers the ability to use radios, televisions, and, more importantly, electrical lights, which are used to work into the night-fall more safely. In addition, villagers can now safely study, cook, and have communal discussions long after dusk as a result. 

Patheria believes that energy storage is the missing link in renewable energy, as it means that even when conditions are not right to produce more energy, such as there not being sun for solar panels to use at night, there is still a source of energy to draw from. Through this, energy can become more sustainable and long-lasting.

The goal of his current research is to find the most effective combinations of elements to create usable battery materials. He looks at the abundance of the elements, their chemical composition, and the costs associated with them. Specifically, he is looking for replacements for the LiCO3.0+O2 & Li0.5Co3.5+O2, which are the elements used in current batteries. His ambition is to create batteries that are 1/10 of the cost of the current lithium-ion batteries by finding these replacements and applying them. 

Patheria also clarified during the presentation that these projects are unfortunately limited by the money non-profits have available. He adds that the groups he has worked with have had to fund-raise for all their previous projects. At the moment, they are still contemplating whether or not what they have been doing can be scaled up to work for larger communities and in a greater variety of places. He states that enabling a cyclical supply chain is another goal, as reusing resources lowers costs and is also better for the environment.

In his concluding statement, Patheria explains that he hopes to expand his project, as he feels that “we do have the technology we need to eliminate energy poverty,” and that cost is the limiting factor.