HPCwire featured an article last week about how supercomputers are helping to produce an economical battery for the next generation of electric cars.
According to the article, a new type of rechargeable battery is being developed that will rival the current standard of lithium-ion. These batteries, called lithium-air batteries, have a much greater energy density than lithium-ion batteries and can theoretically power a car for 500 miles on a single charge (as opposed to 50-100 miles per charge with lithium-ion batteries).
The problem with lithium-air technology is that it is many years of research behind lithium-ion. To remedy this problem, the U.S. Department of Energy has paid for 24 million hours of time on supercomputers. With the help of this processing power, scientists can run complicated models to work out the details about which chemicals would work best in the lithium-air battery.
If supercomputers can effectively speed up the scientific research process, then the gap between technological idea and technology product can be drastically reduced. This applies to much more than battery technology (although that is of primary importance, given our oil dependency and emissions problems).
New forms of alternative energy (such as harnessing wave energy) can be accelerated through the research process to compete with established products like wind farms. With the help of HPC, scientists can model how new medicines will interact with an infection and the human body and get them to market much faster.
As these various applications suggest, HPC and supercomputing are tools that are solving pressing, real-world problems.