A thermal battery startup called Antora Energy, which is backed by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, has successfully launched its first commercial-scale system. The pilot project, located in Fresno, California, is a major step toward Antora Energy’s goal of transitioning heavy industrial sectors away from fossil fuels. The company plans to begin shipping its technology to its first customers by 2025.
Antora Energy’s thermal battery system differs from traditional lithium-ion batteries in that it stores electricity as heat inside carbon blocks at temperatures exceeding 1,800°C (3,272°F). This energy can be discharged as heat or converted back into electricity using thermophotovoltaic cells, similar to those used in solar panels. The technology is specifically designed to meet the high heat requirements of industrial facilities such as cement and steel plants, which currently rely on fossil fuels like natural gas and coal.
The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy (ARPA-E) has granted Antora Energy over $7.75 million as part of a program focused on developing long-duration energy storage systems. By offering both thermal heat and electricity as power sources, Antora’s system allows for industrial combined heat and power (CHP) in a zero-carbon manner. This is crucial for industrial plants that require a constant supply of process heat and steady power, making it challenging to rely on intermittent renewable energy sources.
Decarbonizing heavy industry sectors is critical, as they are projected to be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US by 2030. Antora’s thermal battery has the potential to store and discharge electrical energy in a way that mitigates intermittency issues, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels for these sectors. This technology could revolutionize the market, estimated to be worth $60 billion, serving chemical suppliers, the fuels industry, cement, steel, oil and gas refining, as well as the food and beverage industry.
In terms of market expansion, Antora Energy plans to target potential customers in wind-rich states like Kansas and Iowa, where wind-generated electricity is cheaper than natural gas during certain hours. They will then expand to sunny states, where their batteries can store excess solar energy. Ultimately, CEO and Co-Founder Andrew Ponec envisions a future where Antora’s system surpasses the cost of fossil fuels without subsidies. Research from Energy Innovation Policy & Technology LLC suggests that thermal batteries have the potential to significantly reduce US greenhouse gas emissions.
Source: Bloomberg News, Michelle Ma (published Sep 12, 2023)
– Breakthrough Energy Ventures: A venture capital firm founded by Bill Gates that invests in companies developing innovative and sustainable energy technologies.
– Lithium-ion battery: A type of rechargeable battery commonly used in portable electronics and electric vehicles that stores electricity as chemical energy.
– Carbon blocks: Blocks made of carbon material that can store heat energy at high temperatures.
– Thermophotovoltaic cells: Photovoltaic cells that convert heat energy into electricity using the principle of thermal radiation.
– Combined heat and power (CHP): A system that simultaneously generates heat and electricity, increasing overall energy efficiency.
– Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy (ARPA-E): An agency within the United States Department of Energy that supports research and development of advanced energy technologies.
– Intermittent renewable energy sources: Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, that are not continuously available.
– Greenhouse gas emissions: Gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, contributing to climate change.