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Can Concrete Help Store Energy?

Jane Marsh's picture
Editor Environment.co

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

  • Member since 2020
  • 79 items added with 60,429 views
  • Apr 23, 2021
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Various companies work every year to limit their environmental impact. Businesses with small carbon footprints gain higher customer attraction, reduce their utility bills, and limit their atmospheric pollution. To practice sustainable production, companies can source their energy from renewable sources.

Solar and wind power sources effectively gather the planet's energy and convert it into usable electricity. The problem with these systems is that they only produce power when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. To maximize the efficiency of energy sourcing, we need to improve our renewable energy storage systems.

Current Storage Methods

The way that we currently store energy functions through a grid system. The grid takes in energy, stores it, and releases it to community members on-demand. Electricity supplies and requests fluctuate depending on the time of day. To maintain a balance that sustains our power needs, we must have access to reliable energy storage systems.

Current solar and wind power systems store their excess energy in lithium-ion batteries for short periods. These batteries pose a significant environmental issue that derives from mining and disposal. As companies mine lithium, they contribute to water pollution from toxic leaks.

The batteries also use large amounts of freshwater to construct. Their mining contributes to carbon emissions, habitat loss and acid rain soil pollution. Lithium batteries also contain cobalt and nickel, which pollute the environment when individuals improperly dispose of them.

To limit the production of environmental degradation, we must utilize alternative storage methods. Reducing our reliance on lithium batteries can increase the sustainability of renewable energy systems and the efficiency of green energy storage.

Concrete Energy Storage

Innovators developed a technology, known as Energy Vault, that allows us to store renewable energy, decreasing our dependence on natural gas, oil, and coal for fuel. The storage invention can help global society reach its carbon limiting goals set by the Paris Agreement. Energy Vault reduces dependence on lithium-ion batteries while increasing access to renewable energy storage.

The green power storage system utilizes the kinetic energy associated with hydro pumping. Rather than relying on water to source energy, the technology stores renewable energy in concrete blocks. These blocks offer a cost-effective way to preserve energy.

The Energy Vault is a tower constructed from composite bricks weighing 35 tons. Solar and wind energy resides in the elevation gain. When residents demand excess energy, the blocks return to the ground for use. The system also turns the power generated from the descending bricks into usable electricity.

This project maximizes the sustainability of renewable energy by utilizing non-degrading supplies. The company may reuse the storage blocks over time to limit additional storage resource production. Additionally, the efficiency of the storage function runs between 80% and 90% indefinitely.

To increase the environmental preservation of the project further, the company could work with sustainable concrete production companies to develop the storage blocks. Some mixing businesses tailor-make their concrete to improve its durability and resource preservation. If they optimize the construction of the bricks for weather resistance, ecological interference, and more, they could construct a stable and reliable system.

Storage Duration

Softbank invested $110 million in Energy Vault, which has potential investors wondering what sector of the project the money will contribute to. Many individuals are hoping to see an increase in the system’s long-term storage potential.

After the Texas mass power outage this winter, regions are looking to store large amounts of renewable power to sustain residents through future disasters.

To hold enough power for energy security, the Energy Vault needs to provide long-duration storage. The company is still working on its prototype, and many individuals are hoping to see this feature reflected in production.

What’s on the Horizon?

Society can expect to see an increase in energy storage facilities in the future. The Paris Agreement has global governments searching for carbon reduction methods, and renewable energy seems to be the current solution. As research continues in this industry, the efficiency of these devices should improve.

We can also expect consumer actions to change. In a world fueled by green power, individuals may feel obligated to also do their part in reducing their own emissions. Residential energy use and sourcing will become more eco-conscious in the decades to come.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 26, 2021

Jane, renewables activists have been fantasizing about lifting heavy objects to high heights to store wind and solar energy for decades. Apparently it seems like a good idea, but it's not even close.

An example: say we have a 100-meter tower (328 feet tall) with two huge bricks that weigh 35 metric tonnes each, and we're going to hoist them all the way to the top with cables and pulleys, then let them slide down at night, turning generators on the way to generate electricity.

In a 100%-efficient system, we could expect to generate ~19 kWh of electrical energy (you can enter your own numbers in the online calculator here).

But a perfectly-efficient system doesn't exist. There will be at least 10% of energy lost to friction between the cables and pulleys of our system, and the maximum efficiency of AC generators is about 65%. That means, at best, we could hope to harvest about 60%, or 11.4 kWh, of the energy that went into our system.

11.4 kWh of energy is nothing:

  • It would charge the smallest battery available for a Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle less than one-fourth of the way full.
  • At retail electricity rates, it would be worth $2.50.
  • To have as much storage as a 100-megawatthour battery, a standard capacity for grid-scale batteries, we'd have to build 8,771 such towers.

The reason such ideas gain traction (and Softbank has wasted $100 million) is because most people have a poor understanding of physics. Worse, they don't know solar and wind energy themselves are bad ideas, but have developed a loyal following due to a psychological phenomenon known as the illusory truth effect - the tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure.

Though there are plenty of entrepreneurs who will gladly take $100 million from investors by making fake promises about solar, wind, concrete storage, and other hoaxes of "green energy", there isn't enough money in the world to turn bad ideas into a good ones.

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