Alphabet could soon be competing with Tesla in renewable energy storage

Paterniano Del Favero
Agosto 1, 2017

This solution has the possibility of lasting longer that lithium-ion batteries, while competing with other existing clean storage solutions in terms of price, according to X executives speaking to Bloomberg.

The plan is being developed by Alphabet's secretive research lab X, which has a history of big "moonshots" focused on solving big problems in the world.

If successful, the project could enable the company to tap what X director Obi Felten described as "trillions and trillions of dollars in market opportunity".

Malta isn't yet a fully-fledged X project, but a team of around ten scientists is now testing early prototypes, with an eye to partnering up with businesses to integrate the technology on a commercial level within a power grid.

The Malta team is now working on an early test prototype in Silicon Valley. The collision of hot and cold air spins a massive turbine that generates electricity for the buildings to which the tanks are connected.

The cool air is funneled to the tanks containing antifreeze and the hot air heats up the salt. The salt could potentially keep its temperature for days, Bloomberg reported, meaning the system could be tapped when needed.

Scientists have previously proven this system as a plausible technique in storing energy. One of the reasons is that the system doesn't require the expensive ceramics and steels that have historically been used to regulate temperatures.

X says the system can come in various different sizes, ranging from the same size as a garage, to a full-scale traditional power plant, depending on needs. German engineering firm Siemens is also developing storage systems using salt for its solar-thermal plants.

Lithium-ion batteries are the Malta project's main competitor for financial success, as the former's prices continue falling. "But there are a lot of challenges that an emerging technology has to face". Alphabet has the balance sheet to inspire confidence, with $95 billion in cash and equivalents.

Robert Laughlin, a Nobel prize-winning physicist whose research laid the foundation for Malta, is now a consultant on the project. He met X representatives at a conference a few years ago.

If the idea works, the technology will pitch Alphabet head-to-head against Elon Musk's Tesla, whose high-profile experiments with energy storage are well-documented.

The team is now looking for partners to build, operate and connect a prototype to the grid. "What we're talking about here is engines and oil companies - big dinosaurs with very long teeth", said Laughlin. Khosla didn't respond to requests for comment.

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