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Renewable energy storage, one globe at a time| GuyWhoKnowsThings


Central Sardinia is not generally considered a hotbed of innovation: arid and rural, some of its road signs riddled with bullet holes made by locals practicing target shooting, the setting reminiscent of a Clint Eastwood western. But in Ottana, on the abandoned land of a former petrochemical plant, a new technology is taking shape that could help the world curb climate change. The key component of this technology is as unlikely as its remote location: carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming.

Energy Dome, a Milan-based startup, runs an energy storage demonstration plant that helps address a mismatch in the local electricity market. “In Sardinia, during the day, everyone goes to the sea,” says Claudio Spadacini, CEO of Energy Dome. “They don't use electricity, but there is a lot of supply,” he added, referring to the Italian island's abundant sunlight.

Energy Dome uses carbon dioxide contained in a huge balloon, the “dome” of the company's name, as a kind of battery. During the day, electricity from the local grid, partly produced by nearby fields of solar cells, is used to compress carbon dioxide into a liquid. At night, the liquid carbon dioxide expands back into a gas, driving a turbine and producing electricity that is sent back to the grid.

Solar and wind energy are fast-growing renewable sources, but they depend on nature's intermittent schedule to produce electricity. Many researchers and policymakers say storing that energy until it's needed, for hours or even days, is key to shifting economies away from fossil fuels. “Advancing energy storage technologies is critical to achieving a decarbonized power grid,” said Jennifer M. Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy. in a 2022 statementwhen his department announced it would commit more than $300 million to long-duration energy storage.

Companies are developing and commercializing varied and creative ways to store renewable energy: liquefying carbon dioxide, deoxidising iron, heating towers filled with sand to temperatures almost high enough to melt aluminum. But predicting our energy storage needs in the future, after a massive energy transformation, is a daunting prospect, and it's unclear which of these approaches, if any, will prove effective and cost-effective.

“There is a real urgency around decarbonizing electricity on a much faster timeline than we have contemplated in the past,” said Elaine Hart, founding principal of Moment Energy Insights LLC, a clean energy consultancy. “We don't need technologies like long-duration energy storage or hydrogen today, but we might need them on a large scale in the next 15 to 20 years, so we are at a critical time for their development.”


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