MIT alumni's thermal battery enables 24/7 renewable energy

The energy storage solution uses inexpensive carbon blocks that are inexpensive to make and easy to scale.
Ameya Paleja
Antora Energy offers an alternate method to store renewable energy
Antora Energy offers an alternate method to store renewable energy

Antora Energy 

MIT alumni David Bierman and Jordan Kearns have joined hands to build a thermal battery that lets industrial users rely on renewable energy round the clock, a university press release said. The duo, who studied at the university during the last decade had set up separate companies in the field of renewable energy that have now merged and could see joint projects become operational as early as 2025.

As renewable energy installations such as solar and wind have increased recently, increased production and lower demand during parts of the day have resulted in low electricity prices. Although this is good news for end-use customers, it dampens investments in the sector.

Storing renewable energy is an option being explored, but building large batteries using lithium-ion technology is expensive. Research is ongoing for alternate ways of storing large amounts of energy; this is where the MIT alumnis offer a solution.

MIT alumni team up

Bierman and Kearns took up different courses at MIT in the last decade. They went on to set up separate startups in renewable energy, looking to solve the problem of the intermittency of these technologies.

Kearns' startup would offer industrial users a way to seamlessly switch between fossil fuels and renewable energy, depending on their daily pricing. In the following years, Kearns took up larger projects helping companies switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Bierman's company worked on an energy storage solution made from carbon blocks that can store energy for prolonged periods in insulation. These blocks can be heated to temperatures exceeding 2,700 Fahrenheit (1,500 Celsius).

Last year, after raising $50 million in a funding round, Bierman acquired Kearns' team, The two startups are now working to deliver low-cost renewable energy at an industrial scale.

How does the technology work?

The combined effort, called Antora Energy, uses thermophotovoltaic (TPV) technology, where energy from the carbon blocks is recovered can be recovered in the form of heat or electricity.

MIT alumni's thermal battery enables 24/7 renewable energy
How energy storage solution works

The panels used for this process are much like photovoltaic cells used in solar panels but are tuned to absorb and work with the spectrum emitted by the heated object, in this case, the carbon blocks.

"Antora has a thermal battery that takes in the electricity, converts it to heat, but also stores it as heat, so even when the wind stops blowing, we have a reservoir of heat that we can continue to pull from to make steam or power or whatever the facility needs. So, we can now further reduce energy costs by offsetting more fuel and offer a 100 percent clean energy solution," Kearns said in the press release.

Not only are carbon blocks inexpensive to manufacture but they can also be scaled up relatively quickly. Antora Energy has now set up its manufacturing facilities in California, where it can make TPV cells that can produce two megawatts of energy every year. The company claims this is the world's largest production facility for these cells.