Photo Credit: Energy Vault
New generation energy storage technologies gain significance day by day. It is a fact that lithium-ion batteries are not environmentally friendly, and due to the fires that happened in the past years, doubts have also arisen regarding the safety of lithium-ion batteries. On the other side, a large amount of hydrogen energy is produced from fossil fuels, and its efficiency is insufficient. So, in terms of a sustainable world and getting more efficiency from renewable energy sources, the success of energy storage systems has become an essential issue.
Energy storing means that energy can be used anytime when wanted or needed by switching between energy forms. Advanced high-scale energy storage systems that are unaffected by harsh weather conditions are required to make wind and solar technologies more renewable and increase their efficiency. With the achievement of advanced high-scale energy storage systems, it may be possible to argue that wind and solar energy can be real competitors to fossil fuels. Recently, there has been a significant development by the Swiss-based company Energy Vault: They have successfully commercialised their innovative energy storage technology.
Bricks have a significant role in Energy Vault's energy storage technology. Bricks, each weighing 35 tons, are lifted and converted renewable energy generated from solar and wind energy into gravitational potential energy, which can be kept there until needed. Energy is stored using gravitational potential energy change. This logic comes from the simple laws of physics taught in high school. When the bricks are lifted through the engine, energy is drawn from the grid, and when the bricks are lowered, the energy is transmitted back to the grid. If the number of bricks moved up and down increases, the corresponding amount of energy is stored or released. In conditions where energy can not produce from renewable energy sources, such as reduced wind speed or the absence of sun, electricity transmission to the grid will be possible using this system. Energy Vault uses artificial intelligence technology to prevent the system from being damaged, making the brick's speed and acceleration controllable. It is estimated that the brick, which can reach a height of 100 meters in less than a minute, can store about 10 MWh of electricity.
The new generation energy system has been inspired by the working mechanism of hydroelectric power plants. It has a structure that does not require special land conditions, is not affected by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, is resistant to harsh climatic conditions, and does not depend on weather conditions. In its production, international building standards have been considered. It has been designed to prevent performance loss over time, and the risk of chemical fire has been reduced to zero. At the same time, it has higher efficiency and lower cost than the working mechanism of hydroelectric power plants. Bricks were preferred as a storage area in the new generation system instead of water. One of the characteristic features of Energy Vault that distinguishes it from other storage systems and reveals its approach to renewability is the selection of materials that build the bricks.
Energy Vault uses materials science in the construction of bricks and prefers custom-made blocks with environmentally friendly and sustainable materials instead of cement. Sand and soil are included in a high proportion of custom-made bricks, and it is also possible to add a significant amount of waste material. There are no restrictions on the variety of materials added to bricks, including waste materials from fossil fuels such as coal ash from thermal power plants and waste from mining. In the middle of last year, another step was taken in terms of materials that can be added to bricks to increase sustainability. A strategic partnership has been initiated with the renewable energy company Enel Green Power to recycle end-of-life or decommissioned wind turbine blades and their integration into the new generation energy storage system. The number of wind farms installed to clean energy from the wind is constantly increasing. Although it is a good development in terms of reducing dependence on fossil fuels for a sustainable world, it is a fact that the usage period of wind turbines is about 20 years, and the first wind turbines were installed in 2000. There should be a decision about the future of wind power plants and what will happen to the materials that make up the wind turbines, which are no longer usable. Enel Green Power has been working on the sustainability of all the materials that make up wind turbines for a long time. However, there was a problem with recycling turbine blades that have been used fiberglass, which is more difficult to recycle than other materials. At this point, the idea of breaking apart and adding the blades of the old wind turbines to the bricks has emerged. This integration brings with it a series of feasibility works such as which wind farms have completed their useful life as part of a cyclical process, the delivery of turbine blades to the fragmentation facilities and their integration into the new generation energy storage system after processing. In addition, the integration is expected to increase the durability and strength of the bricks.
It should be noted that the new generation energy storage technology cannot solve all the issues related to wind and solar energy. For example, it currently cannot replace steel and concrete with another material, which has a large share in constructing wind turbines and solar panels. It is also not possible to extend the life-span of wind turbines and solar panels.
In order to the achievement of goals such as increasing the efficiency of renewable energy sources, decarbonization and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, it is crucial to reduce the power cuts that occur in the use of wind and solar energy. In this context, it is essential to develop and effectively use new generation sustainable energy storage technologies. Energy Vault's success which aims to increase the use of sustainable materials in the energy storage system, and adopts a mission to offer innovative solutions by minimizing costs, deserves to be seen and followed.