If there is one thing that differentiates old school energy - oil, coal, gas - from the sustainable choices of the twenty-first century - wind, solar, water - it is storage. We might be able to generate all the electricity we need from those last three via wind farms, solar panels, tides and waves, but without the materials to trap their energy for use at night, when the wind drops and when the tide turns, we will be powerless.

It is timely then that a new journal - Energy Storage Materials - launched this year. The title offers the obvious hope that materials science will provide the answer to the sustainability problem. In a perspective, world-renowned solid-state physicist John Bannister Goodenough (who was born to American parents in Jena, Germany, 25 July 1922) suggests that, "Storage of electrical energy generated by variable and diffuse wind and solar energy at an acceptable cost would liberate modern society from its dependence for energy on the combustion of fossil fuels." [http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ensm.2015.07.001]

Goodenough is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, USA, and is perhaps most famous for having essentially invented electrode materials for the Li-ion rechargeable battery, the ubiquitous electrical device we all rely on for our digital mobility, our "non-polluting" cars and much more besides.

Fossil fuels have served us well through at least the last two centuries. Powering the Industrial Revolution and the major developments of the twentieth century around the globe although not without the high price of endless conflicts because of their uneven distribution in the ground beneath our feet and below the floors of our oceans.

Unfortunately, the fossil fuel legacy will not serve our descendants well: the pollution and the global warming. Goodenough suggests, as have others, that we need to urgently "liberate modern society from its dependence on fossil fuels".

"Storage of electrical energy generated by variable and diffuse wind and solar energy at an acceptable cost would liberate modern society from its dependence for energy on the combustion of fossil fuels."John B. Goodenough

Goodenough points out how energy can be stored most conveniently in chemical form. Indeed, fossil fuels represent the storage of solar energy as chemical energy over the billion-year time scales. By stark contrast, we need to be able to store the solar, wind, and water power we generate minute by minute to avoid the concomitant pollution that comes with the billion-year matter and the devastation its retrieval can cause in terms of environmental destruction and war. Rechargeable electrochemical technologies must be able to compete on price and efficiency with fossil fuels. They must also be able to out-compete with the vested interests of multibillion, multinational corporations and nations whose existence, profits and lifestyle rely on exploiting those ancient, but apparently, dwindling reserves (fracking aside).

At the heart of the problem are motor vehicles. The infernal, internal combustion engine is a wonder of the modern age, but the most insidious destroyer of environments, hiding in plain sight and ignored by millions every day as we put our foot down on the commute to and from work, the trip to the shopping mall and countless other journeys. Goodenough explains that, "Realization of a reversible plating of a lithium or sodium anode through a solid Li+ or Na+ electrolyte would offer the best solution for a rechargeable battery that powers electric vehicles." This technology holds the promise of increased capacity and much lower cost and an alternative means to store solar and wind power as well as providing effective vehicular electrical storage.

Such technologies as well as developments in electrochemical capacitors, reversible fuel cells and other areas are likely to feature prominently in future issues of Energy Storage Materials. It's time for materials science to step up to the mark and take us into a future of sustainable energy.

Read John. B Goodenough's original article here.