Australian engineers might have solved one of the biggest obstacles to scaling up solar energy — the lack of affordable storage technology that allows solar to be used at peak demand after the sun goes down. Their California-based startup Terrajoule is applying an older technology, namely steam engines, to build a storage system that could lower the cost to under $100 per kWh, which is less than 20 percent of what it costs for current battery storage systems. This new system will also last longer (it has a 25 year lifecycle), thereby eliminating use of the toxic and rare materials contained in batteries.
According to Treehugger, “the Terrajoule system couples concentrated solar with steam engines and an integrated storage system using an insulated pressure vessel to deliver cost-effective solar energy 24 hours a day.”
The company believes they can use steam engines quickly and cheaply scale up solar, because all of the necessary technology already exists in automotive and industrial supply chains. This means that the factories, materials and manufacturing equipment can be easily converted to solar storage use.
Terrajoule recently announced they received an $11.5 million Series A round of funding that will allow them to continue to scale up distributed solar power generation.
“Who expected that reciprocating steam piston engines would play a major role in 21st century energy growth?,” the Terrajoule website states.
“Reciprocating steam engines powered the industrial revolution and steam itself is ubiquitous throughout industry to this day. Actually it is the phase change between steam and water that makes water a fundamental component of both life and industrial processes. Steam is fundamental to the conversion between thermal energy and electricity, and steam piston engines built with modern automotive technology are back.”
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