Jill Macpherson, Gravitricity’s senior test and simulation engineer, declared the test of their gravity battery a success, which could be their chance to win the energy storage war.
Governments and energy businesses are vying to create battery storage capacity as renewable energy operations spread around the globe, ensuring that people have access to clean energy at all hours of the day and night. Because many renewable energy sources are unreliable, there is now a bigger demand than ever for battery storage, which has sparked massive investment in new battery technologies all around the world. Now that gravity batteries have been developed, we may be able to use wind and solar farms to generate energy even when neither the wind nor the sun is present.
Gravity batteries work by lifting a heavy object into the air or to the top of a deep shaft using energy from renewable energy projects. In order to minimize the weight, winches are utilized, which generate electricity as the cables move. This implies that energy from renewable projects, such as wind and solar farms, which cannot supply consistent electricity, can be stored in a different fashion from conventional battery power for usage during peak demand times.
The idea of pumped hydroelectric power storage, which employs dams to pump water up and down a hill to produce electricity as needed, is built upon by these mechanical batteries. Many of these initiatives are currently under progress, and the U.K. has identified 700 hydroelectric power sites that have the capacity to provide up to 7 GW of energy storage. So, it is not unexpected that engineers have been motivated to apply this concept to battery storage.
But how do gravity batteries compare to lithium-ion batteries, if at all? Lithium-ion batteries, which now dominate the market, are composed of an anode, a cathode, a separator, an electrolyte, and two current collectors (positive and negative). Lithium is stored in the anode and cathode. From the anode to the cathode and vice versa through the separator, the electrolyte transports positively charged lithium ions. A charge is produced at the positive current collector by the movement of the lithium ions, which releases free electrons in the anode. The electrical current then travels from the positive current collector to the negative current collector via a powered device, such as a laptop. The separator prevents electrons from moving freely inside the battery. The anode releases lithium ions to the cathode as the battery discharges and produces an electric current, which causes a flow of electrons from one side to the other. The converse occurs when the gadget is plugged in: Lithium ions are given out by the cathode and received by the anode.
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The world will need to significantly increase its lithium mining activities to provide enough of the metal to create these batteries. Only then will we be able to continue producing lithium-ion batteries in sufficient quantities to power our electrical devices and propel the green transition? In contrast, gravity batteries are mechanical devices with a lifespan of about 50 years that may be used repeatedly with minor repairs. According to Asmae Berrada, an expert in energy storage at the International University of Rabat in Morocco, lithium-ion cells deteriorate, which causes their storage capacity to decrease over time irreparable.
In addition to having a longer lifespan, Berrada’s research indicates that lithium batteries may cost twice as much during their lifetime than mechanical alternatives. Moreover, gravity batteries might lessen our reliance on the metals and minerals needed to make chemical batteries, which would lessen the environmental impact.
Gravity battery trials are already taking place in several projects. In the port of Leith, Scotland, Gravitricity has been testing a gravity battery prototype. Two 25-tonne weights on steel cables were raised by the company utilizing solar energy and a 15-meter-tall steel tower. The weights are lowered when the power is required, enabling the motors to function as generators to generate electricity. Jill Macpherson, the company’s senior test and simulation engineer, declared the test a success: “The demonstrator was rated at 250kW – enough to sustain about 750 homes, albeit for a very short time. But it confirmed that we can deliver full power in less than a second, which is valuable to operators that need to balance the grid second by second. It can also deliver large amounts more slowly, so it’s very flexible.”
Companies still encounter numerous obstacles in their efforts to expand the usage of this technology, despite recent advancements in the field. Several businesses have made bold claims about the potential of their gravity battery operations, including Gravtricity, which claims its 20 MW facility can power approximately 63,000 homes for an hour, and GravitySoilBatteries, which thinks it can offer up to 30,000 kWh of storage at an efficiency of 85%. Yet, these developments are still hypothetical and may never materialize.
Due to the decline in Russian imports, the European Union is currently experiencing an energy crisis. The developing world may fall into energy poverty due to Europe’s increasing demand.
Other concepts, including gravity batteries, are being investigated as engineers and scientists continue to think creatively in search of the next major green energy answer. While not all ideas will work out, this is probably how we will discover the finest new source of renewable energy or battery storage. Gravity batteries are currently in their infancy, and only time will tell if the firms creating the technology will be successful in building up their companies.