Alphabet Is Using Salt As A Renewable Solution For Energy Storage

Alphabet Is Using Salt As A Renewable Solution For Energy Storage
Design

A project from the company's X division plans to use salt and a low temperature liquid similar to antifreeze to store energy

Emma Hutchings
  • 2 august 2017

Alphabet’s new project, code named Malta, is an inexpensive system that takes full advantage of renewable energy by storing it for up to several weeks in flexible locations. Nobel prize-winning Stanford physics professor Robert Laughlin designed a theoretical system that stores electricity as heat and cold. This stored energy can be kept for days, or even weeks, until it’s needed.

Here’s how it works: Renewable energy is collected from wind or solar farms on the grid and sent to Malta’s energy storage system. This electrical energy drives a heat pump (a machine that converts electrical energy into thermal energy by creating a temperature difference). The heat is stored in high temperature molten salt, while the cold is stored in a chilled low temperature liquid similar to antifreeze. The temperature difference is then reconverted by a heat engine back into electrical energy and sent back to the grid when needed.

This system benefits from inexpensive components, with much of it using conventional technology. Salt is easily extracted from the earth and can be used multiple times to store heat without degrading or emitting toxic byproducts. Malta uses flexible siting, so it isn’t dependent on weather conditions or specific locations. It can be close to the renewable energy source or near a location with high demand on the grid. The system is also long-lasting and easy to expand, as the salt tanks can be charged and re-charged thousands of times—possibly for up to 40 years, which is three times longer than other current storage options.

After over two years of building CAD drawings, running extensive computer simulations and 3D printing parts, the team has detailed engineering designs that are almost ready to be turned into actual machinery. They are moving quickly to test commercial viability and are looking for innovative industry partners to help bring the system to life. The next step in the process is to build a megawatt-scale prototype plant large enough to prove that the technology can work at a commercial scale.

Malta

Alphabet’s new project, code named Malta, is an inexpensive system that takes full advantage of renewable energy by storing it for up to several weeks in flexible locations. Nobel prize-winning Stanford physics professor Robert Laughlin designed a theoretical system that stores electricity as heat and cold. This stored energy can be kept for days, or even weeks, until it’s needed.

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