Scientists are exploring a groundbreaking solution to the perennial challenge of efficiently storing energy from renewable sources like solar and wind. The prevailing issue with conventional energy storage methods, such as large battery packs, is their costliness and reliance on environmentally damaging mining practices for minerals like lithium. However, a promising alternative is emerging in the form of Antora Energy, a startup investigating the viability of storing energy in intensely heated rocks.
Andrew Ponec, the founder of Antora Energy, emphasizes the simplicity of their approach, stating, “People sometimes feel like they’re insulting us by saying, ‘Hey, that sounds really simple.’ And we say, ‘No, that’s exactly the point.'” The process involves using photovoltaic solar panels to capture sunlight and heat rocks to temperatures nearing 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Antora Energy has chosen blocks of solid carbon in the form of low-grade graphite as the storage medium after testing out their viability. Graphite emerged as a suitable candidate due to its ability to retain substantial amounts of heat. Drawing inspiration from smelting plants, which already utilize hot rocks to store ten times more energy than all the world’s lithium-ion battery storage combined, Antora is innovating by incorporating cavities and insulated doors into the rocks to release stored heat as light.
Ponec explains, “The key thing that those furnaces didn’t have is a way to get the heat back out. We’ve added some cavities, some gaps in the carbon that allow light from deep within the system to shine out, and some insulated doors that can open and close that allow that light to shine out when you want it.” The subsequent step involves converting this light into steam and electricity, with additional applications in heating equipment used in cement and steel production.
While Antora Energy is at the forefront of this inventive approach, several other startups are exploring similar methods of storing energy in dense rocks. The concept presents a potentially straightforward and sustainable solution, relying on an abundant raw material. However, the scalability of this idea to meet the escalating global energy demands remains uncertain and warrants continued research and development.