In Sardinia, a company uses CO2 to store energy from the sun and wind

In Sardinia, a company uses CO2 to store energy from the sun and wind

In Sardinia

Storing the energy produced from renewable sources through production systems that are easily replicable and made up of materials common on the market. It is the great dilemma that the energy world has been trying to solve for some time, and that today the Italian company Energy Dome may have solved using the main climate-altering gas: CO 2. Today the real challenge of the energy transition to renewable solutions is not so much how to produce them, but how to store them.

Solar and wind power are non-programmable energy sources, which exist in abundance at certain times and at others less: just think of the supply of solar energy when it is night or wind power when the wind drops. For this reason, for several years the real question has been the storage of energy, its storage: what type of batteries or storage systems can be created to conserve energy from renewable sources when it is in excess and therefore have it when needed? At the moment, current batteries are mainly based on rare earths such as lithium and critical materials such as cobalt. Energy Dome has patented a system that instead uses carbon dioxide as a storage system for the energy produced by non-programmable renewable sources. And this summer it presented the first plant capable of achieving this purpose, created in Ottana in Sardinia.

The plant created by Energy Dome in Sardinia - Photo credit: Energy Dome

Mignogna Andrea To evaluate the real applicability of the solution presented by the company led by CEO Claudio Spadacini, interviewed a technician who could explain and analyze the innovative scope of this system: the engineer Giuseppe Messina of Laboratory of Process and Systems Engineering for Energy Decarbonisation of Enea (the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development). Which in general confirms the goodness of the Energy Dome proposal:

"It is a revolutionary technology for many reasons: above all because it represents an alternative to the current value chain underlying the energy transition".

An answer to the problem of energy storage In summary, this is the first CO 2 battery in the world: it uses carbon dioxide to store renewable energy taken from the electricity grid. Energy Dome says the technology can be deployed quickly and anywhere. “It is an accumulation system that competes with the accumulation systems with the greatest potential for commercial diffusion which are batteries - Messina continues - but it is not an electrochemical system similar to that of the latter, but of thermodynamic accumulation. During the charging phase, it uses the electricity taken from the network to compress the CO 2 contained in the 'dome' and store it in a liquid state, storing the heat generated by the compression; in the discharge phase, the previously stored heat is used to evaporate the CO 2 and expand it in a turbine for the generation of electricity ". In other words, it absorbs energy from the electricity grid when this is in excess or is cheap and returns it to the grid when it is most needed: "They are fundamental systems for renewable energy that are largely non-programmable in terms of disconnection : let's think about photovoltaics or wind ". As the Enea engineer specifies, our current electrical system is structured to respond immediately to the demand for energy. The supply curve continuously matches that of demand: when we need energy, we simply push a switch.

“Storage systems come into play to increase the penetration of non-programmable renewables in the electricity system: the more we produce this type of energy, the more we need storage systems such as Energy Dome. This system is the first ever developed, so much so that the company has a worldwide patent ", says the CEO

The use of CO 2 as a battery for renewable energy According to what the company itself describes on the website, 22 2 CO 2 is one of the few gases that can be condensed and stored as a liquid under pressure at room temperature. This is why it is the perfect fluid to store energy economically in a closed thermodynamic process, without having to reach extremely low temperatures. In an interview with Bloomberg Spadacini explained how it works: “To charge the battery, we take CO 2 at near-atmospheric temperature and pressure and compress it. The heat generated during compression is stored. When we exchange thermal energy with the atmosphere, the CO 2 gas becomes liquid. To generate and distribute electricity, liquid CO 2 is heated and converted back into a gas that powers a turbine, which generates energy. The CO 2 gas is always contained and the whole system is sealed ”. Here is the demonstration of how technology works in this video.

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Video credits @Energy Dome

Un another interesting aspect is that it is not a particular type of carbon dioxide, as Messina explains: “It is an industrial grade CO 2 that can come from natural sources or from chemical processes. Of course it will have a specific purity threshold but probably also with less stringent requirements than that for food use, that is, it serves for example to make the water sparkling and which perhaps has defined toxicity requirements ".

Why Sant’Anna suspends the production of sparkling water The scarcity of carbon dioxide, which suppliers prefer to allocate to healthcare, weighs heavily. CEO Bertone talks about an emergency that affects all European producers of water and soft drinks. It is, for example, a gas that is easily found in Italy and that could be part of circular economy systems, if properly purified. The carbon dioxide that remains in the system is always the same: therefore, if this storage system is not also used to dispose of carbon dioxide, it has a strong indirect impact on the issue of emissions: "If an accumulation technology like this allows to increase the penetration of non-programmable renewable energies, more space is opened up for these sources than for non-renewable ones. The use of 'green' energy depends on storage: if I did not have this type of technology there would still be a need for fossil fuels ", says the CEO.

The map of futures lithium mines in Europe The old continent is being excavated again to increase the internal production of the metals and minerals necessary for the energy transition. Australian companies have sniffed the business, while Brussels hopes to free itself from dependence on China An innovation useful to free itself from energy addictions Today, the storage mechanisms of renewable energy are based on the use of rare earths such as lithium and critical materials such as cobalt “not easily accessible and controlled by a few suppliers: for example, China alone manages something like 50-70% of the refining of lithium and cobalt - continues the engineer from Enea -. These minerals depend on multiple supply chains linked to the energy transition, such as that of electric cars. As we move towards large growth, the demand can only increase. For this reason, from a geopolitical point of view it is dangerous to be totally dependent on resources that we do not fully control or are managed by very few countries in the world. In this Energy Dome technology, materials such as steel, CO 2, water are used: all materials readily available on the market ”.

In addition, lithium storage devices require complex technologies for recyclability and disposal: the industrial supply chain for the recycling of lithium batteries is very limited at the moment and this has an impact on both an environmental and economic level . Instead, the materials of this storage system are largely recyclable with the industrial capacity and technologies currently available.

A machine that compresses carbon dioxide - Photo credit: Energy Dome

And the market is betting on this technological innovation: Energy Dome has secured several commercial agreements, including one with the Lombard multi-utility A2A for the construction of a first plant. Earlier this year, the company signed a non-exclusive licensing agreement with Ansaldo Energia, a supplier of power generation systems and components, for the construction of long-term storage projects in Italy, Germany, the Middle East and Africa. Already today, in financial support for the development of the Energy Dome plants, there are important investors such as Barclays, CDP Venture Capital Sgr, Novum Capital Partners: the Italian company announced in June the completion of a financing round of 10 million euros. .

Few limits, many advantages Trying to fleas the Energy Dome technology, there are two elements to take into consideration according to the engineer of Enea: "The storage of CO 2 at high pressure, which does not it represents a technical criticality but affects the cost of the system: an element that I am sure, however, has been taken into consideration. And then the impact on land consumption generated by the dome ”. But above all Messina highlights the great advantages of this technology: starting with the efficiency of the carbon dioxide batteries. "Lithium batteries deteriorate over time: let's think of our mobile phones, but also of electric cars. In the case of the Energy Dome, with proper maintenance, the efficiency curve can be stable for decades.

From this point of view, the most correct comparison is that with hydroelectric pumping systems: plants that have been there and have been operating for perhaps 100 years. In that case, it is a question of moving water: in this case of moving CO 2 ".

This is a technology that has already been tested and is ready to be launched on the market: “It is a very notable value. Energy Dome filed the patent in February 2019: in June 2022 it had already started the first plant. It took them less than 3 and a half years, with all the problems to be solved starting from a concept on paper ”, says the manager.

The estimate of the ENEA technician is that when fully operational, thinking of standardized systems, it could take months and not years for new implementations. And finally, there is a theme of social acceptance: any technology can be more or less valid, but if people don't want it, they don't adopt it. This is the case, for example, of the debate on nuclear power which is independent of the scientific validity of this energy source. In this case, Messina concludes, "if the communication for this new technology is managed well, any possible technological problem will be solved". Because a system of this type can be a concrete support, immediately applicable, to the energy transition towards renewable sources. And public consensus is increasingly directed towards this direction of development.

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