Salt, air and bricks: could this be the future of energy storage?

(The Guardian, 1 Apr 2024) Start-ups turn to heat over batteries as they aim to industrialise the practice.

Think of battery ingredients and lithium, cadmium and nickel come to mind. Now think again. What about salt, air, bricks, and hand-warmer gel? In our electricity-hungry future they’re set to provide heat to manufacturers who need it, and to help keep the lights on at times when energy is short.

Energy storage has a dual purpose: it plugs gaps when the wind drops or the sun stops shining, and it allows users to buy cheap off-peak power and use it when they need it.

Until now, the focus of storage for industry has been mainly on giant conventional batteries, which the UK’s National Grid hopes to hook up to the grid more quickly amid delays. But there’s growing interest in storing energy in the form of heat – and that’s where the everyday ingredients such as air, salt and bricks come into the picture, because these materials are really good at holding warmth. A clutch of start-ups are now aiming to industrialise the practice.

Heat storage is coming up the agenda: last month a Lords committee urged the government to take energy storage more seriously, and this month a conference run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) will hear the case for thermal batteries.

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The Guardian, 1 Apr 2024: Salt, air and bricks: could this be the future of energy storage?