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Alphabet to begin work on renewable energy storage
August 10, 2017, 4:24 pm

The secretive research lab X of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is developing a new way to store renewable energy that otherwise might be wasted — by using salt and antifreeze. Researchers are developing a system that can be located anywhere, has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries, and competes on price with new hydroelectric plants and other energy storage methods.

The Malta team is currently working on an early test prototype in Silicon Valley. The system features four cylindrical tanks connected via pipes to a heat pump. Two are filled with salt, while the other two are filled with antifreeze or hydrocarbon liquid. The system takes in energy in the form of electricity, creating two streams of air — hot air that heats up the salt and cold air that cools the antifreeze. A switch is then flipped which reverses the process: the hot and cold air rush toward each other which creates gusts powerful enough to spin a turbine to produce electricity when needed. Depending on how the tanks are insulated, the system can store energy for many hours or days. Thermal salt-based storage has the potential to be several times cheaper than lithium-ion batteries and other existing grid-scale storage technologies.

Scientists have previously proven this system as a plausible technique in storing energy. Malta’s contribution has been to lower the operating temperature of the system so that materials like expensive ceramics and steels will not be needed. A working system can vary in size from a large garage to a full-scale traditional power plant.

Existing electrical grids struggle with storing renewable energy. This year alone, around 790 megawatts of energy will be stored globally, with overall capacity to hit 45 gigawatts by 2024, with the lucrative market seeing over $40 billion in investments by that time.

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