A team made up of researchers from all over the world has developed a new way to store energy by lowering sand into defunct underground mines. The novel technique, called Underground Gravity Energy Storage (UGES), presents an effective long-term solution to store energy that makes use of abandoned mining sites.
The researchers stated that the technique could be used when the price of electricity was high. The approach involves transporting sand into underground mines and then converting the soil’s potential energy into electricity through regenerative braking.
The researchers explained that when electricity was cheap, the soil could then be removed from the mine using electric motors into an upper reservoir to store energy. Regenerative braking is a mechanism that converts the kinetic energy of a moving object and, in the process of slowing it down, creates energy that can either be stored until needed or used immediately.
The primary components of the Underground Gravity Energy Storage plant are comprised of a motor/generator, vertical shaft, mining equipment, and upper and lower storage sites. The electric motor/generators and the shaft are used to dump and lift large volumes of sand into the mine.
The researchers noted that more power was extracted from the plant when the mineshaft was broader and deeper, noting that the size of the mine also influenced the energy storage capacity of the plant. This means that larger mines have higher energy-storage capacities.
The study was led by Julian Hunt, a scientist at the International Institute for Applied System Analysis. In a media statement, Hunt stated that UGES plants would create employment opportunities and allow closed mines to provide services to store energy. He also noted that mines were connected to the power grid and already possessed the basic infrastructure, which made the implementation of UGES plants much easier and substantially decreased the cost of doing so.
Hunt then highlighted that unlike other methods to store energy which lost energy through self-discharging, UGES didn’t lose any energy to self-discharge. This, he argued, allowed it to store energy for an extended period of time. In addition, he noted that power capacity costs for the Underground Gravity Energy Storage plant were roughly $2/kW while investment costs totaled no more than 10 USD/kWh.
In their report, the researchers estimated that the technology had a global potential of 7 to 70 TWh, with most of this potential concentrated in India, China, the United States and Russia.
The researchers’ findings were published in the “Energies” journal.
Such energy-storage methods could allow the energy sector to extract maximum value from minerals such as silver produced by numerous miners, including Eloro Resources Ltd. (TSX.V: ELO) (OTCQX: ELRRF), so that available supplies meet the needs of the energy sector for decades to come.
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