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Thermal energy storage will beat natural gas in the Northeastern US

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Thermal energy storage is beginning to emerge as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries, and will be put to the test in the Northeastern US. Israeli startup Brenmiller has just signed a deal with New York company Rock Energy Storage, aimed at deploying its ‘bGen’ thermal battery to drive natural gas out of the industrial energy market in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. , Vermont and New York.

Thermal energy storage: Buh-By Natural Gas

From a decarbonization perspective, thermal energy storage sounds pretty simple on paper. For example, the basic idea behind bGen is to use electricity to heat crushed rock up to 650 degrees Celsius, when additional wind or solar energy (or both) is available. The system provides steam, hot water or hot air on demand for industrial processes, eliminating the fossil fuel boilers typically used.

If that rings a bell, you might be thinking about concentrated solar energy systems, which use sunlight to heat molten salt or a specialized oil. The hot solution is led to a power plant, where water is boiled for steam.

The bGen approach enables thermal energy storage without the need for large, special fields with reflective mirrors or troughs. The system can run on any electricity source, on-site or off-grid, with renewable energy sources being preferred due to their relatively low off-peak costs.

Brenmiller also notes that the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 qualifies the system for “substantial federal stimulus.” State and utility incentive programs could also play a role, leading Brenmiller to claim that its thermal energy storage “converts electricity into heat to power sustainable industrial processes at a price competitive with natural gas.”

Thermal energy storage put to the test

Brenmiller is new to the CleanTechnica radar, so we have to catch up here.

Using electricity from renewable energy sources for energy storage is the most interesting aspect of bGen’s capabilities from a sustainability perspective, although it is not the only one. Brenmiller is also introducing the system as a balancer for conventional power plants, and it can be used in combination with cogeneration systems.

Brenmiller’s first deployment of bGen in the US will take place at a cogeneration station on the campus of the State University of New York (SUNY) in the hamlet of Purchase, New York. In addition to heating the storage medium with electricity, the system also uses exhaust gases for heat. In total, Brenmiller expects bGen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the facility by approximately 550 metric tons.

The hamlet of Purchase, New York may seem like a random place to demonstrate an important new thermal energy storage system. The SUNY project, however, ties Brenmiller to the New York Power Authority, described as the largest state entity of its kind in the US.

Additionally, part of the funding for the project came through the Israeli-American Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation, which focuses on homeland security projects. Between the Power Authority and BIRD, the SUNY facility will be closely watched for signs of widespread adoption here in the US and elsewhere.

Widespread application in the northeastern US

When Brenmiller announced the commissioning of the SUNY facility in December, company chairman and CEO Avi Brenmiller expected the project would demonstrate the benefits of the bGen system, leading to “wider adoption of our thermal energy storage systems in New York and beyond. The United States”

It’s only been a few months since commissioning, but apparently Rock Energy Storage has already seen enough. Rock has been working with Brenmiller since 2019 and is now the exclusive distributor of bGen in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as New York.

Brenmiller announced the combination on June 6, describing it as a “definitive five-year agreement” that is expected to reach more than $150 million in cumulative sales milestones.

“The Northeast is a strategic U.S. market for Brenmiller because of its forward-looking approach to electrification and decarbonization and is well suited to take advantage of the sustainability and flexibility benefits that our cost-effective bGen™ technology unlocks,” Avi Brenmiller explained in a press statement.

In terms of access to renewable energy, the move into the upper northeast market is timely. Vermont and New Hampshire have little or no access to the ocean, but the other states covered by the agreement are looking forward to a future powered by offshore wind turbines. So they will need more energy storage. Even Maine is playing a role in offshore wind, despite the technological challenges posed by its coastline.

As a group, the seven states also have little or no fossil energy reserves of their own, making the idea of ​​exploiting renewable resources within the state all the more attractive.

Thermal energy storage meets the long-term bill

To be clear, lithium-ion batteries have been the workhorses of the renewable energy transition. Li-ion battery arrays help bring more wind and solar connections to the electricity generation landscape, storing enough electricity to bridge the grid at night or during cloudy weather and periods of low wind.

The concern is that Li-ion technology has reached the limits of its capabilities. Li-ion arrays typically last about 4-6 hours, enough to handle routine daily networking tasks or short-term emergency situations. However, an electricity grid saturated with wind and solar energy needs more resilience. It must store energy for a longer period of time, at a lower cost. The Energy Department has set the bar for long-term storage at a minimum of 10 hours, with much longer periods in the works (see more long-form stories here).

Brenmiller says its crushed stone system stores heat for “hours or days.” If necessary, heat transfer is accomplished by water flowing through carbon steel pipes in direct contact with the rocks, creating steam at temperatures up to 530°C.

The use of plain crushed rock is just one area of ​​activity in the field of thermal energy storage. CleanTechnica also monitors specialized rocks, falling particles, strategic ice production, and phase-change materials.

Then of course there is geothermal energy. In previous years, the US was thought to have limited access to geothermal resources, but new technology has expanded the field of possibilities, so stay tuned for more on this as well.

Follow me @tinamcasey on Bluesky, Threads, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Photo (cropped): A new thermal energy storage system aims to expel natural gas from industrial processes in seven northeastern US states, using hot rocks (courtesy of Brenmiller).


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