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Google Looks to Revolutionize Renewable Energy Storage in Latest Moonshot Project

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【Summary】Coined as the Malta project under Alphabet X, the revolutionary process utilizes antifreeze and hot salt to preserve power – longer than traditional lithium ion batteries. Interestingly, this solution is very scalable, allowing businesses to utilize a system that is the size of a large garage, or for cities – the size of a conventional power plant.

Michael Cheng    Aug 07, 2017 2:15 PM PT
Google Looks to Revolutionize Renewable Energy Storage in Latest Moonshot Project

Renewable energy, like wind and solar, is considered to be the future. However, the technologies that support harvesting and storage for sustainable energy sources are lacking severely. For example, solar energy is harvested via panels that suffer from efficiency issues. As an "unlimited" energy source, it is limited by the capacity of the battery bank that stores harvested power. 

Google wants to address the limitations of renewable energy by make it easier to store. Coined as the Malta project under Alphabet X, the revolutionary process utilizes antifreeze and hot salt to preserve power – longer than traditional lithium ion batteries.

Read on to learn about this new technology and how it could make electric vehicles more reliable and cheaper.

Disrupting Sustainable Energy

Researchers participating in the Malta project are looking to benefit from inexpensive materials to improve the usability of renewable energy. Two tanks, one filled with salt and the other with cold antifreeze, are setup in the location. Energy is generated by a solar or wind farm, which gets pushed into the system. It is then converted into hot and cold air, respectively heating up the salt and cooling down the hydrocarbon liquid.

When the process is reversed, both elements start to push on each other – this creates wind. Lastly, the wind is used to turn turbines, resulting in generated electricity.  

"Electricity in the system is produced most efficiently when there is a wider temperature difference between the hot and cold vats. Exotic materials are often needed to maintain high temperatures, but Malta appears to be using common materials instead," said Craig Turchi, a scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Thermal Systems Research and Development Group.

New Opportunities, New Competitors

Google could take its project into many different markets. First, it could harvest energy to power its fleet of electric, autonomous vehicles, under Waymo. With more access to power, the company would encounter less challenges with battery production and scaling. Next, it could use the power to support its massive server farms worldwide. By using low-cost materials in place of ceramic and steel, storing energy could become exponentially cheaper in the future. Interestingly, this solution is very scalable, allowing businesses to utilize a system that is the size of a large garage, or for cities – the size of a conventional power plant.

Moreover, the tech giant may also sell the technology to cities and other businesses in order to improve the adoption of renewable energy practices. If the Malta project takes off, it could decrease reliance on batteries, which would affect a number of businesses in the EV space, including Tesla.

"If the moonshot factory gives up on a big, important problem like climate change, then maybe it will never get solved," said Obi Felten, a director at X, during an interview with Bloomberg. "If we do start solving it, there are trillions and trillions of dollars in market opportunity."

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the battery production market is forecasted to receive up to $40 billion in investments by 2024.

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