Innovation in Grid-Scale Thermal Energy Storage that is Cost-effective, Scalable, and Simple

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innovation for thermal energy storage

Thermal Energy Storage Material Could Convert Coal-Fired Power Plants to Renewable Energy Generators

The Material for Thermal Energy Storage Uses Phase-Changing Material within a Matrix of another High Melting Point metal

Many new technologies for clean energy generation and storage are mushrooming across the world to replace the traditional coal-fired power plants. But the amount of money that has already gone into building these power plants cannot be ignored.

Up until now, a viable and scalable solution to use the coal-fired power plants as renewable energy machines was possibly not thought over.

But there seems to be a solution coming into life sooner than expected. 

A team of engineers from the University of Newcastle has developed a solution to affordably and effectively store thermal energy – A scalable solution for thermal energy storage.  

The Innovation

The solution is a 20cm x 30cm x 16cm block of Miscibility Gaps Alloy (MGA) that can be brought to existing power plants or fitted to retired power plants to help them transition to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels.

These blocks receive energy produced by renewables, store it cheaply and securely as thermal energy, and can be used later to run steam turbines at power stations that otherwise use coal to produce steam.

According to the lead researcher and material scientist, Professor Erich Kisi, using this innovation, renewable energy sources can be used for reliable baseload power while retaining existing infrastructure and related workforces.

Co-founders of MGA Thermal, Dr Alex Post and Professor Erich Kisi; Image Credit: www.newcastle.edu.au

Cheap and abundant renewable energy, which is generated in peaks, can be used to meet consumer needs using the innovation’s ability to store and dispatch energy at any time of day or night.

The grid (including the poles and wire on streets) associated with coal-fired power plants are not designed to handle large spikes associated with renewable energy. Also, redesigning the whole grid is quite expensive.  

This innovation for thermal energy storage using Miscibility Gap Alloys can easily be applied to use the existing infrastructure.  

The Science Behind the Technology

Miscibility Gap Alloys are materials with high thermal conductivity. The MGAs consists of two components. One is the phase change material, which exists as discrete particles, embedded within a higher melting point matrix as shown in the image below.

A typical MGA microstructure, the matrix is Iron and the included phase is Copper ; Image Credit: aip.scitation.org

When a block of MGA is supplied with heat, the matrix and the inclusions (the discrete particles) are heated only sensibly (i.e. do not undergo any phase change) until the melting point of the included phase is reached. Above that temperature, the included phase begins to melt, storing energy in the form of latent heat, while remaining encapsulated within the matrix that has a much higher melting point.  Thus the entire material remains macroscopically solid despite experiencing a phase change

Since the metal used for the matrix has high thermal conductivity, (usually 30-200 times greater than molten salts), it results in effective heat transfer to and from the encapsulated phase changing particles reducing the heat exchanger complexity.

Capabilities of the Technology

  1. Safety & Cost – MGA blocks are far cheaper, long-lasting and safer, and more scalable as compared to a battery.
  2. The starting ingredients of the blocks are abundant and readily available, enabling their production at quite a low cost. Compared to a Li-ion battery, such blocks are just 10 percent of its cost for the same size, while delivering the same amount of energy.
  3. The system of blocks can be fast-charged against currently available solutions.
  4. These blocks offer the lowest Levelized cost of storing electricity. Levelized cost is the measure of the total lifecycle cost of a facility compared to the amount of energy it can store.  Also, the blocks enable close to 100 percent conversion of electricity to heat.
  5. The blocks are made from materials that are non-toxic and can be completely recycled with no risk of combustion or explosion in hazardous environments.
Image Credit: MGA Thermal

Funding 

The team has close to $1million of funding from CP Ventures Government of Australia, for establishing a manufacturing plant for scaling up the production of modular heat-storing blocks.

To Wrap Up

This effective and scalable innovation of storing renewable energy along with its capability to use the existing infrastructure of coal-fired plants for generating electricity makes it a promising alternative to conventional batteries.

Innovations in Thermal Energy Storage

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