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Architects behind world's tallest building unveil gravity-based technology that transforms skyscrapers into batteries: 'Some of the world's most remarkable structures'

"What if a building could become a battery?"

"What if a building could become a battery?"

Photo Credit: X

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — the architecture firm behind the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building — is aiming to turn skyscrapers into batteries, according to Interesting Engineering.

The firm has partnered with battery energy storage company Energy Vault to design sustainable building architectures that aim to accelerate carbon payback, the estimated time sustainable energy offsets the pollution from the construction of the project. They estimate it can achieve payback in three to four years.

"What if a building could become a battery?" Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (@SOM_Design) posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. "We've partnered with Energy Vault to optimize its gravity energy storage system—where heavy blocks stored high, when released, create energy that can be converted into electricity." 

In the video, SOM showcased its "radical ideas," including the Burj Khalifa. It also announced the partnership with Energy Vault to build new buildings "where energy storage becomes an integral and sustainable part of our urban and natural environments, charting the course for a future powered by renewable energy."

"We are extremely pleased to begin this exclusive global partnership with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, a firm with an unparalleled track record in developing some of the world's most remarkable structures," said Robert Piconi, chairman and chief executive officer at Energy Vault, according to Interesting Engineering. "Our strategic partnership with SOM opens a new multi-billion dollar market segment for Energy Vault focused on the future of sustainability in new building design and energy efficiency."

Though the partnership was announced in May 2024, Energy Vault and SOM have been working together for the past year, optimizing skyscraper architecture to include Energy Vault's gravity energy storage systems (GESS) in the skyscrapers in urban environments.

According to Enel Group, the success rate of GESS is 80-85%, meaning very little energy is lost in the gravity transfer. This makes GESS a reliable system of long-term storage when other energy systems, such as coal or wind, are unable to be used.

A test system in Texas found that gravity-generated energy can store 18 hours of energy, providing energy in the event of a power outage.

Also, the environmental impact is less than other forms of energy if using recycled materials or building the system into skyscrapers.

There are also companies using this type of energy in abandoned mines, where dropped sand underground acts as the energy source, eliminating the high costs and space of building new infrastructure. The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis estimates that there are millions of abandoned underground systems in the world. 

Investment into GESS could result in a demand for lucrative jobs across the world. It can also provide reliance on energy that doesn't produce global-heating-related weather disasters, such as droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes.

"Since our founding, SOM has pushed the boundaries of architecture and engineering, redefining what buildings can do for cities and communities," said SOM's Adam Semel. "This partnership with Energy Vault is a commitment not only to accelerate the world's transition away from fossil fuels, but also to explore, together, how the architecture of renewable energy can enhance our shared natural landscapes and urban environments."

While there is no timeline for the introduction of this gravity-based technology in skyscrapers, Energy Vault has announced plans for an EVx gravity storage system in China and South Africa to increase their storage needs by 2035.

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