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Are Concrete Blocks the Next Batteries?

Are Concrete Blocks the Next Batteries? thumbnail
energy vault youtube demo

Energy VaultYouTube
  • Energy storage is an increasingly large problem with renewable energy. Energy Vault wants to solve it by storing extra energy as potential energy in concrete blocks.
  • The company recently received a major investment from Japanese holding company SoftBank.
  • That money will allow Energy Vault to build its first full-scale prototypes.

In August 2019, the Japanese multinational holding firm SoftBank invested $110 million in Swiss company Energy Vault. It was a major boon for the company, which has a somewhat unique take on renewables: It stores potential energy through the use of stacked concrete blocks. Energy Vault will use the investment to build its first two full-scale models in Italy and India.

Energy Vault is only two years old, but has earned its investment through growing interest in energy storage. As renewables rise in use and their prices drop, energy storage is becoming increasingly crucial. Left to their own devices, energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines don’t run forever; solar panels can only produce electricity when the sun’s out, for example, while wind turbines only turn when there’s wind.

Enter storage methods like Energy Vault.

When solar panels in a field in Rome, for example, begin producing energy, they would siphon part of that energy off to a storage facility like Energy Vault. With that energy stored, the company could then run the energy when there was no wind or a cloudy day.

There are many ideas for renewable energy batteries. Energy Vault’s consists of an almost 400-foot tall, six-armed crane with custom-built concrete blocks weighing almost 35 metric tons each. As solar or wind energy is siphoned into an Energy Vault tower, an A.I. directs the concrete blocks to rise up. Then, according to the company’s website, the blocks are “returned to the ground and the kinetic energy generated from the falling brick is turned back into electricity.”

That kinetic energy then turns a motor, which passes through an inverter, sending the energy back into the grid. Energy Vault claims the process had a “round-trip efficiency between 80 to 90 [percent].”

Energy Vault says its tower design means it can scale up or down easily, based on a location’s needs. The company’s website discusses options of 20, 35, and 80 MWh storage capacity as well as anywhere between 4 to 8 MW of continuous power discharge for 8 to 16 hours. What drew investors to the idea in August was its simplicity.

“We at the Vision Fund want to come in when a technology is proven and it’s ready to scale. That’s what’s so exciting about this technology. It’s not a science problem. It’s fifth-grade physics,” said Akshay Naheta, a managing partner of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, at the time of the investment. “There will be teething problems with any new technology. But this is more of a scaling problem.”

The aspect of Energy Vault’s plan that’s most intriguing to potential investors is what’s known as long duration storage. The longer a storage facility can hold energy, the better. There’s no way to know what crises will hit any particular energy grid next, so if Energy Vault could store the energy for months, years, or even indefinitely (there are no time claims on the company’s website), then it would be exponentially valuable to utilities.

Of course, the company doesn’t even have its full-scale prototype built yet. But with SoftBank’s investment, that might change soon.

popular mechanics



93 Comments on "Are Concrete Blocks the Next Batteries?"

  1. Antius on Mon, 28th Oct 2019 6:46 am 

    ‘Are Concrete Blocks the Next Batteries?’

    Yes! But not in the way envisaged here.

    A better use for the concrete would be to construct pumped storage reservoirs containing water. Water can be pumped, concrete cannot. Even in flat countries this is far more efficient than trying to store energy by stacking concrete blocks.

    Another potential use for concrete would be thermal storage blocks integrated into coal boilers. These would absorb excess electricity as heat and use the heat to raise steam when demand is low. Coal (or biomass) would be used to superheat the steam only when the temperature of the thermal store drops too low to produce superheated steam. Hence coal would cover long-term lulls and total use would be modest.

  2. Obviously on Mon, 28th Oct 2019 10:23 am 

    LOL – the desperateness is ramping up. If only we could convert that into electrons eh?

  3. Outcast_Searcher on Mon, 28th Oct 2019 12:52 pm 

    Antius: Yes, I was thinking of something along the lines of your idea, right off. It seems to me all the moving parts, heavy duty cables, potential for things to break, wear out, etc. makes this idea seem like one of those which sounds interesting, but won’t meet commercial standards due to costs.

    But in this case, it seems pretty obvious, unlike highly complex things like new battery chemistries, fusion power, etc., where lots of experiments are needed to see if the idea works.

    Of course, for ideas like this, someone gets paid a lot for arranging the funding, etc. — so it’s not surprising someone is backing it if someone will pay.

    OTOH, we know good solar designs last decades, and good batteries can last a decade or more, and with little interference or maintenance.

    This — I’d want to see the outfit getting the fees for the financing guarantee longevity or to pay all the maintenance, and fat chance of that, IMO.

  4. Outcast_Searcher on Mon, 28th Oct 2019 12:55 pm 

    Obviously: Are you one of those who claim EV’s can’t possibly work? Just because modern ideas get more complex doesn’t automatically imply desperation.

    LED bulbs are based on computer chips — and yet they are 7.5X as efficient as incandescant bulbs, and last MANY times longer, and now are getting to roughly cost parity for standard sized bulbs.

    That’s more like amazing than desperation.

  5. makati1 on Mon, 28th Oct 2019 5:36 pm 

    The energy bullshit keeps getting deeper and deeper. Desperation to keep BAU alive. Not going to happen folks. I hope you are all downsizing your needs and prepping for a life of much less. It is just around the corner.

  6. makati1 on Mon, 28th Oct 2019 5:43 pm 

    Outcast, have to noticed the panic happening with computer chips lately? What happens when they are not available? How cheap will the bulbs be then? Or the I-gadget in your hand? Making those chips is high tech and depends on materials from all over the world.

    Why do people ignore the fact that we live in a very, very, fragile world built on a complicated system that is going to crash and burn soon? Ignorance? Denial? Will you even have electric to power those techie toys? Maybe not. We shall see.

  7. Robert Inget on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 10:02 am 

    Back in the day we called indoor concrete construction ‘thermal mass’.
    We built block walls, with voids filled with rebar, sand or cement, painted black, facing south facing windows. Back then, houses were bigger.

    We also built massive wood burning stoves made of fire brick, block, indoors. I’m not sure if it was Russians or Swedes who did this first 500 years ago.
    https://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/BioFuel/DougMasonryStove.htm

  8. wildbourgman on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 10:12 am 

    I like this idea it seems simple.

  9. Duncan Idaho on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 10:16 am 

    Where were you in 2005?

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EHmBsSlUEAABR49.jpg

  10. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 1:04 pm 

    Robert, yes we tried a lot back in those days, and we waited patiently for supra-conductivity and fusion energy to happen at “room temperatures”.
    And now, in conclusion, I would like to say something wery wise about humanity’s wild goose chaise for abundant energy: But I can’t.
    My “old man” solution is to cut down energy use and cut down our numbers on the planet. How pessimistic and negative is that.

  11. supremacist muzzies jerk on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 1:54 pm 

    claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 1:04 pm
    supertard, congrats on your supertard appointment.
    by ‘cutting down #’ you don’t mean muzzies? the momnet you love something, your solution is biased.
    but since you are supertard, i dare not to contradict you. i have to thank you for your idea which is on par with concept of the maginot line

  12. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 1:59 pm 

    nah, the maginot line was a great idea. supertard is never wrong.
    without it france would’d fell sooner.
    trust your supertards

  13. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 2:22 pm 

    Muzz, we should cut down our numbers to what they were 60-70 maybe a 100 years ago for every particular region.
    We should cut down our numbers to the time before penicilin, vaccines and the green revolution made overpopulation possible. Those three growth factors have started to show a “best before” date. 1:Antibiotics migth not work forever. 2: Vaccines could fail too (swinepest obs!!), 3:We are rapidly loosing topsoils in a global scale.
    No offence against any population or race, we just need to be fewer.

  14. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 2:29 pm 

    thinking about it, the maginot line was actually a great idea, it should just have been placed on the mediterrainian coast against invasions from the south.

  15. supremacist muzzies jerk ID Theft on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 2:44 pm 

    claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 1:04 pm

    claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 1:59 pm

    claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 2:22 pm

    claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 2:29 pm

  16. supremacist muzzies jerk on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 2:46 pm 

    If supremacist muzzies jerk (fmr-paultard) spent as much time looking for a job as he does posting nonsense, he would be off the welfare dole quickly.

    Easier to be dumb and lazy.

  17. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 2:49 pm 

    Muzz-the biazed: “The moment you love something, your solution is biased.”
    Muzz I ask you: Does your love last for ever?

  18. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 2:52 pm 

    Now even flat-landers can mechanically store energy at an efficiency at least as good as pumped hydro storage. Problem is, the storage volume is considerably lower than that of a lake.

    And with 2.4 the density of concrete is not that much higher than that of water.

    Spectacular niche application.

    There is more than enough potential pumped hydro capacity in the world:

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2019/10/26/global-pumped-hydro-atlas/

    But that’s for storage up to ca. 24 hours.

    The real challenge lies in finding a solution for storage in the months range. And that can only be chemical storage.

    Iron powder as fuel:

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2018/11/04/iron-powder-as-a-fuel/

    Formic acid:

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/formic-acid-as-car-fuel/

    Methanol:

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/the-methanol-economy-with-george-olah/

    Ammonia (NH3):

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/?s=ammonia

    Hydrogen:

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/?s=power+to+gas

  19. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 3:16 pm 

    My previous post prompted me to look how the formic acid guys of Team Fast of the university of Eindhoven are doing. Well, great!

    Like Lightyear One, the world’s first solar car…

    https://lightyear.one/

    …Team Fast has found refuge at the Automotive Campus at Helmond, near Eindhoven now that they received 550,000 euro to continue research in the viability of hydrozine as a fuel and renewable storage medium:

    https://www.ed.nl/eindhoven/mierenzuurmotor-uit-helmond-krijgt-flinke-injectie~ac50192e/

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrazine

    Fast apparentrly transformed into Dens (Dutch Energy Solutions) and is busy developing a hydrozine generator (formic acid). Hydrozine is basically a less problematic container of hydrogen than hydrogen itself.

    The hydrozine bus is still driving in Eindhoven:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRHYLLn5lgw

  20. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 3:31 pm 

    clogg, before we get further into the hydrozine thing, I would like to ask you if this hydrozine, is the same as hydrazine which is a very contested jet fuel.

  21. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 3:44 pm 

    Hydrazine is highly toxic and dangerously unstable
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrazine

  22. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 3:45 pm 

    Very good remark. No, hydrozine is very different from hydrazine:

    https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mierenzuur#Hydrozine

    Hydrozine: CH2O2
    Hydrazine: N2H4

    I had the two confused. Thanks for the correction.

    “Onder de naam Hydrozine[4] produceert sinds 2017 het Team FAST (Formic Acid Sustainable Technologies) van de Technische Universiteit Eindhoven mierenzuur met CO2 uit mest om als brandstof te gebruiken. Als voor de productie duurzame energie wordt gebruikt, heeft men zo een CO2-neutrale brandstof.”

    Hydrozine is a name invented by the students of the TU Eindhoven.

  23. supremacist muzzies jerk on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 3:47 pm 

    why doesnt whitey supertard trump sell me 5000 muzzies for $1 each? i promoted him to supertard recently because he used colorful language to describe muzzies. this is something muzie commonly use to describe us infidels.
    i’ll hold the muzzies in supertard’s 10,000 acres and sell ticket for recreational hunters $5,000 for each muzz killed. $25 mil profits.

  24. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 3:50 pm 

    I have dug a little in Team Fast and unfortunately the bus with formic acid-hydrozine “range extender” never drove:

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2019/10/29/presentation-on-worlds-first-bus-on-hydrozine/

    Technically it worked, but mechanically this essentially laboratory installation was too frail to be attached to a bus.

    They have climbed down a little and are now working on stationary applications, like generators. Once the technology has matured, they hope to return to automotive.

    The hope is to “tame hydrogen” in a liquid.

    At least this prototype DID run on formic acid – fuel cell:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEtlXh47EXc

  25. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 4:05 pm 

    Meanwhile DENS did manage to bring a formic acid 25 kW generator to the market:

    https://dens.one/our-solution/

  26. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 4:19 pm 

    clogg, while I have your attension, what are the DRAWBACKS on the hydrozine engine?
    How would you put it in your own words?

  27. supremacist muzzies jerk on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 4:35 pm 

    claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 2:49 pm
    Supertard why UMAD? sry I don’t mean to make UMAD
    My point is muzzie got proper burial and you don’t. I hope u live a long time though. But no supertard burial for you

    Muzzies love is rampant

  28. Davy on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 4:40 pm 

    “The real challenge lies in finding a solution for storage in the months range. And that can only be chemical storage.”

    And finding ways for money to grow on trees will help

  29. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 4:43 pm 

    supremacist muzzies jerk. I wouldn’t mind have my ashes spread at sea.

  30. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 4:50 pm 

    davy, com’on, lets hear what clogg has to say about posible negative aspects about the hydrozine technology

  31. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:00 pm 

    “And finding ways for money to grow on trees will help”

    Growing money on trees is so backward.
    At the Fed they just type the amount of money they need in the computer.

  32. supremacist muzzie jerk on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:03 pm 

    i’m for spreading your ashes if that’s your thing. but it’s not goint o happen because govt. love muzzies more than us.
    i’m for limited spending and small govt. but if muzzies get proper burrial we should get it too.
    muzzies get special treatment all the time and does the number terror orgs go down? no it keeps increasing. it’s time to try new things.
    supertard big muzzie beard said muzzie is authentic, govt said muzzie is not authentic, so why does it need muzzie proper burial? because muzzie is authentic. thus a contradiction

  33. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:04 pm 

    “How would you put it in your own words?”

    Ca. 5-6 times lower energy density as regular fossil fuels.

  34. makati1 on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:05 pm 

    For Cloggie and those other techie dreamers:

    “How Renewable Energy Models Can Produce Misleading Indications”

    https://ourfiniteworld.com/2019/10/24/how-renewable-energy-models-can-produce-misleading-indications/#more-44248

    “The idea of using renewables certainly sounds appealing, but the name is deceiving. Most renewables, except for wood and dung, aren’t very renewable. In fact, they depend on fossil fuels.

    If wind and solar were really providing substantial net energy, they would not need subsidies, not even the subsidy of going first. They would be casting off profits to benefit the rest of the economy. Perhaps renewables aren’t as beneficial as many people think they are. Perhaps researchers have put too much faith in distorted models.’

    BTW: Amerikans…”Furthermore, the US is a major importer of manufactured goods from China and other parts of the world. The embodied energy in these imported goods never gets into US energy consumption statistics. In theory, we should add a little energy consumption by foreign manufacturers to supplement total reported US energy consumption.”

  35. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:21 pm 

    clogg, Thanks for replie. now I’m getting realy interessted. But how is hydrozine produced? Links please

  36. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:35 pm 

    “Door H2O en CO2 in een reformer onder stroom te zetten, is het mogelijk een bijzondere vloeistof te maken: HCOOH, ook wel aangeduid als mierenzuur of hydrozine.”

    In a reactor you combine water, CO2 and renewable electricity and you get you HCOOH, the desired liquid hydrogen container. Don’t stick your hand in it, because that’s the same as fondling nettles.

  37. makati1 on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:38 pm 

    claes, Cloggie lives in a delusional world where Europe will rise again and tech will make all the problems go away.

    BTW: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp100-c4.pdf

    Another of his techie wet dreams go poof!

  38. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:39 pm 

    This is the Dutch company that concentrates on the formic acid reactor:

    https://www.voltachem.com/fa

  39. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:45 pm 

    Here a simplified representation of the formic acid reactor:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCIMOM7lBLo

  40. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:47 pm 

    For Cloggie and those other techie dreamers:

    “How Renewable Energy Models Can Produce Misleading Indications”

    https://ourfiniteworld.com/2019/10/24/how-renewable-energy-models-can-produce-misleading-indications/#more-44248

    Accountants and females to boot have no place in science and engineering. They should count beans.

  41. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:48 pm 

    clogg, Sounds good, but what makes it combust ? What chemical process makes it expand so it can drive ann otto-motor?

  42. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:54 pm 

    Clogg, your links doesn’t tell how or why the formic acid is ignited in the “otto-motor”, please tell us.

  43. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:55 pm 

    Here more info regarding the production of formic acid (still working on it):

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2019/10/29/voltachem-formic-acid-reactor/

  44. makati1 on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 5:58 pm 

    Once again Cloggie, you prove to all of us that your delusional view of the world is just that, delusional, not to mention irrational, etc.

    When someone points out how delusional you are, you just resort to putdowns and not reply with an intelligent rebuttal. But then, there is no rational rebuttal to her assertions. and you know it. She is just stating what the rest of us already know. Renewables require FFs to exist and are not net energy positive.

    You are resorting to Davy’s method of replies.

  45. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 6:01 pm 

    “Clogg, your links doesn’t tell how or why the formic acid is ignited in the “otto-motor”, please tell us.”

    It isn’t. The hydrogen is released from the hydrozine and fed into a fuel cell. The only function of hydrozine is that of a hydrogine container, comparable to borohydride:

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2018/11/23/hydrogen-powder-nabh4/

    “H2Fuel – Hydrogen Powder NaBH4”

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2019/01/27/nabh4-the-vice-admiral-has-a-message-for-dutch-parliament/

    “NaBH4 – The Vice-Admiral Has a Message for Dutch Parliament”

  46. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 6:03 pm 

    Clogg said.”Accountants and females to boot have no place in science and engineering. They should count beans.”
    Please explain the technology that you are so vigorously promoting. One could get the notion that you don’t understand it your self.
    So, what is igniting the formic acid , when it enters the otto-motor?

  47. makati1 on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 6:03 pm 

    BTW:”17 Top Female Scientists Who Have Changed the World”

    https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/17-top-female-scientists-who-have-changed-the-worl/

    “Get to Know These 91 Famous Female Scientists”

    https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-women-scientists-3528329

    “List of female scientists in the 20th century” (There re hundreds!)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_scientists_in_the_20th_century

    Delusional Cloggie, get educated.

  48. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 6:08 pm 

    “She is just stating what the rest of us already know. Renewables require FFs to exist and are not net energy positive.”

    We have discussed this so many times before.

    It is a typical layman’s opinion. Certified physicists like Antius and myself have a little head start over non-engineers like you.

    But I understand, it is America… we must being inclusive…. if a blacksmith has an opinion about how to carry out a root canal treatment, we should take him serious.

    #NoBlacksmithLeftBehind

    tadadatadadatadada…

    Again, Europe is the origin or science and technology. Are you seriously suggesting that the EU is embarking on a 100% renewable energy strategy while blundering into denying simple scientific principles, a child (or you) can refute? Do you really believe that?

    LOL

    Again, a kWh from a wind turbine is just as good as a kWh from fossil fuel.

    It doesn’t make a fokking difference. You can convert renewable electricity in all sorts of chemicals, including hydrogen, methanol, CH4, anything!

    Try to let this sink in, fer Christ sake and stop spreading fake news!!!

    Get an education rather than opinions that confirm your collapsenik (nihilistic really) worldview.

  49. claes on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 6:11 pm 

    clogg, well I did misunderstand that, i’m sorry, but “It isn’t. The hydrogen is released from the hydrozine and fed into a fuel cell.”
    How is the hydrogene released from the hydrozine, What kind of process makes that happen?

  50. Cloggie on Tue, 29th Oct 2019 6:12 pm 

    “Get to Know These 91 Famous Female Scientists”

    The only female I can remember from 5 years of studying physics and mathematics is Madame Curie. The ladies you cite just managed to get a degree.

    In my entire carrier of 35 years in engineering I have never seen a woman taking the lead in anything. They are usually sad girls who couldn’t get a bloke. They can survive in a tech-environment because no man would ever endeavor to attack them.

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