Google's X lab developing - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Demand Management, Energy Storage, Solar, Wind  -  August 1, 2017

Google's X develops new storage technology

Alphabet Inc.’s signature research lab, known as X, is reportedly working on a new energy storage technology using salt and antifreeze.

X, also known as Alphabet’s “moonshot factory,” has been developing what they are calling Malta, a project creating a prototype of a new way to store excess electricity, according to a July 31 report by Bloomberg.

In the report, Bloomberg said California alone wasted 300,000 MW of energy generated by solar panels and wind panels in the first half of 2017 that could not be stored. The news agency described the storage systems in development by X as a miniature power plant with four cylindrical tanks, connected via pipes to a heat pump that can provide energy on demand to large industrial facilities, data centers or storage for small wind farms and solar installations.

“Two tanks are filled with salt, and two are filled with antifreeze or a hydrocarbon liquid,” Bloomberg reported. “The system takes in energy in the form of electricity and turns it into separate streams of hot and cold air. The hot air heats up the salt, while the cold air cools the antifreeze, a bit like a refrigerator. The jet engine part: Flip a switch and the process reverses. Hot and cold air rush toward each other, creating powerful gusts that spin a turbine and spit out electricity when the grid needs it. Salt maintains its temperature well, so the system can store energy for many hours, and even days, depending on how much you insulate the tanks.”

The construction of the tanks follows a design that requires lower temperatures for operation and thus less expensive construction materials than the previously used lithium-ion batteries, according to Bloomberg. The Malta team has reportedly begun the search for industrial energy partners to build, operate and connect a commercial-sized prototype to the grid, though Bloomberg also noted that one of the team’s biggest concerns is finding the financial backing to advance the project.

In the current energy storage climate, the Malta team envisions the solution for the problems renewable energy companies face with the increasing demand for more efficient storage methods. Scientists have already proven that the hypothetical method that Malta is suggesting for energy storage is a plausible technique, according to the newspaper.

“The thermodynamic physics are well-known to anyone who studied it enough in college,” Julian Green, Malta’s project manager, told Bloomberg. “The trick is doing it at the right temperatures, with cheap materials. That is super compelling.”

This is not the first time the Google subsidiary lab has experimented within the energy world. On July 10, Google announced that its geothermal heating and cooling startup, Dandelion, would be breaking away from X to form its own independent company.

Keywords: Alphabet, google, Malta, X

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