“Melting choc chip” blocks could stack up as grid-scale energy storage
Engineers from the University of Newcastle have come up with a surprisingly simple new energy storage system, built around blocks that store thermal energy like melted chocolate chips in a muffin. The team says they’re efficient, scalable, safe, inexpensive, and can be used in existing coal-fired power plants.
Renewable energy is a key component of any plan to reduce our impact on the planet, but storage remains a major hurdle to making these systems viable. Recent solutions include Tesla’s huge lithium-ion batteries, or storing energy in unconventional forms like molten salt or silicon, heavy rail cars on steep inclines, and huge blocks suspended in mineshafts or stacked in towers.
And now the list has a new entry – Miscibility Gaps Alloy (MGA) blocks. Measuring just 30 x 20 x 16 cm (11.8 x 7.9 x 6.3 in), these bricks are made of materials with high thermal conductivity, so they can easily be heated up to store energy and cooled to release it again as needed.
To do this effectively, the blocks are made of two main components. There’s a solid matrix that holds it all together in the brick shape, and embedded throughout that are particles that melt. The team describes the design as similar to a chocolate chip muffin.
“Imagine the matrix is the cake component, which holds everything in shape when heated and rapidly distributes that heat,” says Mark Copus, an engineer on the project. “The other particles, represented by the choc chips, melt and store thermal energy through the solid to liquid change phase.”
The idea is that these MGA blocks could be heated up using excess energy from renewable sources during peak output times, and store it for when demand spikes. Or they could be stacked up inside other power plants, to help recycle waste heat back into the system.