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Bill Gates-backed startup uses revolutionary method to cut cost of clean-energy storage: ‘We see that as sort of open ground that we can go and make a big difference in’

“Thermal energy storage needs to exist for the promise of a true renewable grid, but it hasn’t been fully developed.”

"Thermal energy storage needs to exist for the promise of a true renewable grid, but it hasn’t been fully developed."

Photo Credit: Fourth Power

As the infrastructure for solar and wind energy is built out, there is a growing need for storage systems for clean energy. 

A startup called Fourth Power is planning to build a prototype facility for one such system in Boston, which will hopefully be completed in 2026, as reported by Financial Post (FP). 

Fourth Power, which has received financial backing from Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, plans to use liquid tin for thermal energy storage. According to Carmichael Roberts — the head of Breakthough’s investment committee — this strategy could be as much as 10 times cheaper than the current standard lithium-ion battery storage systems.

Asegun Henry, the company’s founder and chief technology officer, told Recharge that the technology has been in development for more than 10 years.

Thermal energy storage means converting renewable energy into heat, and BloombergNEF analyst Stephanie Diaz told the FP it is an attractive solution “because it can be flexibly sited, is relatively energy dense, and can provide ancillary services.” 

It could also store a lot more energy in one place than lithium-ion batteries, most of which only have a storage capacity of a few hours. And no lithium means no need for lithium mining — generally considered an environmentally destructive practice that uses massive amounts of water and significantly degrades land in order to remove a nonrenewable resource from the Earth.

The need for battery storage solutions like this one is significant, as the United States has continued to increase its production of dirty energy sources like oil while ignoring its previously agreed-upon deadlines for a clean-energy transition.

“Thermal energy storage needs to exist for the promise of a true renewable grid, but it hasn’t been fully developed,” said Roberts, per the FP. “We see that as sort of open ground that we can go and make a big difference in.” 

Fourth Power reportedly hopes to begin delivering its batteries by the end of the decade.

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