The world is turning its back on fossil fuels to save the planet and, in recent times, to hurt Putin and his horrific plans. But, there is a massive problem. Renewable energy, like solar and wind are erratic, and the mega batteries we use to overcome this issue are costly and massively impact the environment. However, a simple, little-used technology is set to solve this problem and enable an energy revolution. Welcome to the brilliant world of gravity batteries.
The advantages of switching to solar and wind are apparent. They are some of the lowest carbon forms of energy, have practically no dependency on fossil fuels and are by far the cheapest form of energy per kWh. As climate armageddon looms and oil and gas prices rocket, due to Russian sanctions, these factors make solar and wind very appealing. But there is a huge problem. The Sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.
To turn the sporadic nature of solar and wind power into a useable, on-tap source we need to use massive batteries like the 100 MWh pack Tesla built in Australia. These mega-batteries store surplus energy for later use so we can get 24/7 power. So, in theory, these packs solve the problem and allow a country to run themselves entirely on solar and wind power. But there is a terrible problem.
The process of building, replacing and recycling these mega batteries is prohibitively expensive and catastrophic for the environment. This means that solar and wind technologies can’t out-compete fossil fuels at the moment.
Building a battery with over 100 MWh’s capacity takes a colossal amount of rare-earth metals, refining and shipping. All of which release toxic metals into waterways, pollute the atmosphere and destroy wildlife.
Even worse, these batteries don’t last forever. They are being constantly charged and discharged at a frightful pace. Even our best batteries can only take a few years of this punishment before they start to degrade, lose capacity and breakdown. So, we will need to build another mega battery to replace it in the not too distant future, costing a fortune and doing even more environmental damage. Also, the old battery needs to be disposed of properly. Yet again this process can pollute the air and damage the environment.
Despite all of this, a lithium-ion battery supported solar farm or wind farm is still much better for the environment than fossil fuels. But, our planet is at stake. We can’t just be better. We need to be perfect.
Enter the gravity battery, one of the most simple pieces of technology and possibly one of the most impactful.
A gravity battery is comprised of a massive weight attached to a motor/generator. When you power the motor/generator it lifts the weight, storing the electrical energy as gravitational potential energy. Then, to recover, simply drop the weight and let the motor/generator spin, turning the energy back into electrical energy.
I told you it was simple. But it is this simplicity that could cause a revolution.
Firstly, it is far cheaper and easier to build. In theory, all you need is iron, steel, copper, magnets and some computer components. All are easily recycled and sourced, meaning it is far cheaper than the equivalent lithium-ion battery alternative.
As these materials are widely available all over the globe, you can build these with far less shipping than lithium-ion batteries, meaning much less pollutants. They hardly use any rare-earth metals, meaning minimal horrific mining practices need to take place. Both of these factors make gravity batteries far more environmentally friendly.
But surely such a battery would be far more massive than a conventional lithium-ion one? Well, not so. Musk’s 100 MWh pack in Australia takes up around 0.01 km² (before recent expansion). Let’s build a similar-sized gravity battery and see how big it is in comparison.
A 100m tall gravity battery needs a weight of 360 million kg to have the same energy capacity. If we built the weight for this battery out of iron (to keep prices down), it would be a cube with 35m sides. That is a massive weight! We need a structure capable of lifting this enormous weight, so let’s build a Tower with a 50m by 50m and 150m tall footprint to contain our gravity battery. This means our gravity battery would have a footprint 200 times smaller than Musk’s mega pack!
So it is cheaper, smaller, easier to build, less environmentally damaging and will last far longer than a massive lithium-ion mega battery!
But, we have yet to build a gravity battery on this scale, until now. Gravitricity and Energy Vault are both currently building prototypes of gravity batteries that can rival Musk’s mega-battery. Once they have proven their technology they plan to offer their services across the globe.
When they do, solar and wind will become cheaper, less environmentally damaging and more sustainable in the long term. This means more countries can make the switch without breaking the bank and have a minimal environmental impact. Make no mistake. This simple technology could spark a mass exodus of fossil-fuel power as even developing countries can now afford to invest in renewable energy, and developed countries can afford to speed up their transition.
So will gravity batteries cause an energy revolution? I think so. They solve all of the problems of solar and wind without the damaging effects of lithium-ion batteries. What’s more, their longevity and low cost will mean we can make the crucial switch to low carbon fuels even quicker. It goes to show that even simple technology can still be potent.
Tags: Fossil Fuels, Putin, Russia, Solar Power, Technology, Tesla, Wind