Google parent company Alphabet is hoping to revolutionize renewable energy storage using vats of salt and antifreeze.
Alphabet’s secretive research lab, simply named “X,” is developing a system for storing renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted. The project, named “Malta,” is hoping its energy storage systems “has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries and compete on price with new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods, according to X executives and researchers,” reports Bloomberg.
The system, which can be scaled to energy demands, absorbs energy in the form of electricity and turns it into streams of hot and cold air. The hot air heats up the salt, while the cold air cools the antifreeze. Because salt maintains its temperature well, the system can store energy for hours, or even days.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reports that X is stepping into a market that could see about $40 billion in investment by 2024. Roughly 790 megawatts of energy will be stored this year and overall capacity is expected to hit 45 gigawatts in seven years, BNEF estimates. Existing electrical grids struggle with renewable energy, a vexing problem that’s driving demand for new storage methods. Solar panels and wind farms churn out energy around midday and at night when demand lulls. This forces utilities to discard it in favor of more predictable oil and coal plants and more controllable natural gas “peaker” plants.
Google has recently been involved in other, less secretive energy efficiency initiatives. In July, the tech giant announced it will enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Eneco to purchase all of the electricity generated by the largest solar park in the Netherlands. And last year, the company said it was researching how artificial intelligence (AI) may be a transformative tool in improving the energy efficiency of datacenters.