Thermal energy storages or heat storages are a new trend in storing energy obtained from renewable sources, such as photovoltaic farms or wind turbines, Vice President of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Professor Natalia Sobczak, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
According to the professor, storing energy has been an issue for people since the start of energy production. She said that scientists want to find new solutions that can be “an alternative to lithium-ion batteries.”
The expert pointed out that the main problem with solar and wind energy power plants is that sometimes they produce a surplus of energy that has to be stored because otherwise, it gets wasted.
Lithium-ion batteries – not the answer
Professor Natalia Sobczak noted that lithium and cobalt are required to produce lithium-ion batteries. Analysts estimate that by 2050 the 27 EU countries will need about 60 times more lithium and 15 times more cobalt for electric car batteries and energy storage.
“Global resources of these raw materials are limited and difficult to access, and the technologies used to extract them contribute to environmental devastation. Therefore, we are looking for alternatives, and one promising solution is thermal energy storage using phase change materials (PCM),” she stressed.
The way of thermal energy storage
During her participation in the AMADEUS project, the researcher found that energy storage is the most effective at very high temperatures, using alloys with melting points as high as 1,000 degrees Celsius.
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“However, this raises problems, because such energy storage works under conditions of temperature cycling [heating-cooling on a day-night cycle], and during phase transformations, the alloys change volume,” she emphasized.
In addition, the device must be made of such materials that it can be safely placed, for example, in the home. The expert added that prototypes of such devices are already being built. They only take up a little space, so installation should be manageable.
However, according to Sobczak, different types of energy storage should be developed, because not every solution works in all conditions.
“That is why it is difficult to say which technology will dominate the market unequivocally. But for sure it will be hybrid solutions and installations that allow the wide and effective use of renewable energy sources,” the professor concluded.