When, at the end of 2016, Google announced that it was on its way to obtaining all the energy it needed from renewable sources, it kept part of its plans in this area. And they weren’t small. Through X, the company with which the Alphabet parent company extends its research, Google joins the list of public and private agents from around the world seeking the definitive solution to one of the great shadows that are looming over clean energy : how to store surplus on a large scale and at a competitive cost.
“Malta aims to capture more clean energy when it is produced, by using salt to store it on a large scale . ” With this brief declaration of intent, Google presents its project in this area. Under that name, Malta, the North American giant seeks answers where many have already tried to find them. The use of salt for energy storage is a classic in a field dominated until now by energy companies and the public sector. Examples in this line can be found in Germany or even within the United States. In Nevada, for example, a solar thermal plant uses extreme temperature salts to use solar energy after dark.
Google admits that the technology for storage is there. But he points out: “current solutions are expensive and are not capable of capturing all the energy produced from renewable sources . ” After the affirmation, a question that sounds like an advance of results: “What if we could take full advantage of renewable energy with a cheap system that could be located practically anywhere and that would store energy for hours and even weeks?” .
With the bar high, the Malta project is based on the work of Nobel Prize winner Robert Laughlin, which starts from high temperature storage, in molten salt, and at low temperature. The operation of the mechanism is detailed in the image.
According to this scheme, the energy captured from the wind and the sun would be sent to the Malta energy storage system. In it, the electrical energy would activate a pump that, through the difference in temperatures, would convert it into thermal energy. Heat would be stored in salt, while cold would do the same in coolant. When the stored energy was necessary, it would be reconverted into electrical energy by means of a heat engine following the same procedure as with the pump, but in reverse. With this, the energy would be led back to the grid.
On this basis, Google has taken a further step towards component design. To do this, work has been done for about two years on the preparation of simulations and the analysis of possible designs that, after this period, “are almost ready to become real machinery, “ according to X.
Google believes that the system may be viable for a number of reasons. The first, the low cost of its components. Both the machinery (steel tanks, air and cooling liquids), as well as the salt, are easily accessible. In addition, the salt tanks have a useful life that is three times that of current solutions, with a forecast that they can remain operational for 40 years. Another strength would be in the ease of scaling these systems. “To add more storage capacity, all you have to do is add salt and cooling liquid tanks,” they say, before adding another advantage: flexibility in the location of the tanks, which could be installed near power sources or power points. demand.
With these plans in mind, Google’s next step will be to launch the commercial viability tests of its renewable energy storage system. For this, on the near horizon is the construction of a prototype “large enough to test this technology . ” Before that happens, from X they are looking for industrial partners that contribute with Google so that its Malta system jumps from paper to reality.
More information at X company.