A New Kind of Storage Wars

Mon, 2013-03-04 10:25

As I was riding into work the other day, fatigued from the early wake up time, I tuned into NPR Morning Edition. A segment about energy storage caught my ear. Being that my work is centered on sustainability, these days anything and everything about sustainable energy seems to jolt me from any kind of slumber.

This story came out of Seabrook, New Hampshire, where a start-up company by the name of SustainX has developed a new way to store the unused energy that comes from solar and wind power. If you are versed in wind or solar power at all, then you most likely know that with no wind or sun, there is no way for these renewable resources to produce any power. This has been the common thread for wind and solar for decades; there is just no way to store the energy that it produces when being run. SustainX may have found a solution, however, with their “bicycle pump on steroids.”  

How It Works

Richard Brody, vice president of SustainX, compares the technology to a bicycle pump. When you compress air, it gets warm, which is called waste heat. Most standard compressed air storage systems just let the excess waste heat, and the energy in it, vent into the atmosphere. Later, when they run air back through to make electricity, there isn’t enough energy left in it to make a turbine spin. So the compressors actually have to burn natural gas to warm it up enough to generate electricity. SustainX’s compressor doesn’t lose their energy as waste heat when compressed back out. They instead catch the heat in water and are able to store the energy in any standard issue natural gas pipeline, instead of using natural gas they just use the heat. Brody claims that is why their prototype is so much more efficient.

The Storage Dilemma

Thus far, much focus has turned to storing excess energy from renewables in batteries, and over time, this process has received a lot of press. But, Dan Nocera, a chemist at MIT, cites that air compression stores about as much energy as batteries. Although at this point it’s cheaper to get the excess energy from natural gas plants, SustainX is confident that their way of sustainable energy storage, once perfected, will be the primary choice for energy storage. 


Though Nocera said that this kind of storage is unlikely going to become widespread anytime soon, SustainX is slowly making headway and finding a market for storage. In 2010, they hired a former CEO that took a solar panel manufacturer from scratch and turned it into a $500 million dollar initial stock offering. In my mind, sustainability will always win on a global market. In the long run, the more sustainable product will always trump one that uses more energy and will also usually be less expensive. To check out more on this story, visit the SustainX website or listen to the story on NPR.

NPR: http://www.nhpr.org/post/who-needs-batteries-seacoast-firm-stores-energy-air 

SustainX: http://www.sustainx.com/index.htm

By Nick McAndrew

Forward to a Friend

Related Blogs

Request Information

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.