MIT researchers developed a “city battery” root, capable of storing excess heat in molten silicon.
The researchers say the so-called “sun in a box” can store excess energy from solar and wind, and return it as an electric grid on demand.
The battery allows the city to power when the sun is absent, but around the clock.
The new design stores heat in large tanks of hot white molten silicon. It can then convert light from the glowing metal to electricity when needed.
The researchers estimate that a single storage system could provide a small city of about 100,000 homes with fully renewable energy.
The upgraded battery will be much cheaper than lithium-ion batteries, which have been proposed as a viable (albeit costly) way to store renewable energy.
The new storage system relies on the use of fields extended from large mirrors, to focus the sunlight on a central tower, where the light is converted to heat, which eventually turns into electricity.
Concentrated solar plants store solar heat in large tanks filled with molten salt, which is heated to high temperatures, about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
When electricity is needed, the hot salt is pumped through a heat exchanger, transferring the salt heat to vapor. The turbine converts the steam into electricity.
The team looked for another non-salt way to store heat at much higher temperatures and settled on silicon, one of the most abundant metals on Earth, could withstand incredibly high temperatures, exceeding 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Last year, the team developed a pump that could withstand such intense heat and could pump liquid silicon through a renewable storage system. They also made a miniature graphite tank, filled with liquid silicon to test the plan.
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