SustainX fires up air battery

SustainX has finally started up its first megawatt-scale air energy storage device, a next-gen system that could make utility-scale solar and wind power plants more viable.

SustainX has finally started up its first megawatt-scale air energy storage device, a next-gen system that aims to improve grid storage and ultimately make utility-scale solar and wind power plants more viable by solving intermittency issues.

Startup of the 1.5-megawatt ICAES system at SustainX headquarters in Seabrook, New Hampshire has been years in the making. I first wrote about SustainX two years ago after they received a patent for technology that makes it easier and more efficient to transfer large amounts of power.

The system, which doesn't use fuel or generate emissions, takes electricity from the grid and uses it to drive a motor that compresses air and stores it isothermally, meaning at near-constant temperature.

As I've noted before, the company's isothermal compressed-air energy storage system eliminates one of the big problems with conventional compressed air tech: heat.

Traditionally, compressed air energy storage uses excess energy captured from a power plant to run air compressors, which pump air into underground tanks where it’s stored under pressure. Once the air is released, it drives a turbine to generate electricity. Compressed air technology has, in fact, been around for decades, but it’s not widely used in the United States.

When air is compressed to store energy, it heats up. If the heat isn’t recaptured that energy is wasted. Solve the heat problem, and you’ll make the system more efficient and cost effective.

SustainX's energy storage system removes heat from air being compressed for storage and adds heat to air being expanded to generate electricity. The system captures the heat produced during compression, traps it in water and stores the warmed air-water mixture in pipes, the company says. When the grid needs electricity, the process reverses and the air expands to power a generator.

The technology could be particularly useful on large-scale wind and solar farms, which don’t generate power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. It could eliminate the need for alternative energy power plants to use so-called peaker plants, which burn natural gas to generate electricity when the clean energy isn’t available.

Flickr user Tumbling Run, CC 2.0

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com