How Gravity Can Provide Large-Scale Energy Storage

Solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal are all touted as pathways toward a greener future. They provide finite, efficient renewable energy options with a far lower environmental footprint than fossil fuels.

How Gravity Can Provide Large-Scale Energy Storage

According to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), from 2008 to 2018, renewable energy generation doubled, reaching 17.6% of US energy generation. Organizations like the EIA and International Energy Agency (IEA) expect these figures to increase significantly around the globe.

According to the EIA, the growth "in renewable technologies in the United States, particularly in wind and solar, has been driven by federal and state policies and declining costs. Federal policies such as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 and the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credits for wind and solar have spurred project development."

The shift can also be attributed to state-level policies, capacity additions, and public demand.

Renewable energy generation - and alternative energy in general- is a welcoming sight for a future of sustainable development. Besides reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is helping provide energy to rural areas that either don't have access to local grids or have access but have difficulty affording it.

For example, Kodiak Island, located in the northern Pacific near mainland Alaska, hit 99% of energy from renewable sources utilizing wind and hydropower, allowing the small island to be more self-reliant and providing residents with a cleaner energy option.

Though renewable energy technology is constantly lowering costs and improving ease of installation, some challenges are still apparent.

One of the more prominent ones hindering the adoption of renewables is large-scale battery storage. Currently, there are options for storing and maintaining energy for future use. However, they are typically at small capacity, preventing 24/7 access to green energy and blocking further implementation.

To combat this challenge, researchers are working to improve storage capacity to a level compatible with renewables. One such instance can be seen with Energy Vault. The Swiss-based startup recently announced a breakthrough storage option that could change the game for renewable energy.

Gravity Powered Storage

Energy Vault has set out to create a way to store energy utilizing gravity. Their concept integrates kinetic force to store energy.

According to Energy Vault's website, "The system uses proprietary technology to autonomously orchestrate the lifting and lowering of the bricks, storing the potential energy in the elevation gain, and generating then discharging electricity as the bricks are lowered. Importantly, the bricks are made from locally sourced soil, sand, or waste materials, including outputs of fossil fuel production, like coal combustion residuals, and end of life energy components, such as wind blades."

Further, the process will be implemented when generated energy from renewable sources exceeds grid demand, transferring excess power to storage in blocks - one block equaling 1MW of energy.

To remove the fuel, autonomous software will lower the blocks, which will create "electricity through the kinetic energy released from weight turning large motors that generate and dispatch electrical energy."

A Fast Growth

According to Energy Vault, gravitational storage is superior to battery storage because it doesn't degrade over time, is more economically sound, prevents waste from entering landfills, and is highly scalable to even industrial levels.

The composite blocks can even be made using wind turbine blades, providing a feasible end-of-life option and effectively lowering the environmental footprint of wind energy.

Reports state that Energy Vault has successfully created a demonstration unit to test their concept via a 250ft crane that raises and lowers 35-ton blocks. When scaled up and fully operational, the crane would be able to lift and lower up to 7,000 bricks, storing enough energy to power thousands of homes for up to eight hours.

Energy Vault's fast growth and impressive technology have landed it a rather prestigious reputation for a company founded in 2017. A recent merger with Novus Capital Corporation II allowed Energy Vault to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, providing more access to resources for the continued development of their technology.

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