Could MGA Thermal’s storage solution be the missing link in the renewables transition?
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Australian energy scale-up MGA Thermal has raised a tidy $8 million to improve the electrical grid’s stability with its breakthrough energy storage technology.
The company’s miscibility gaps alloy (MGA) technology is an unassuming shoe-box sized block that’s capable of storing energy generated by renewables like solar and wind cheaply – and safely – as thermal energy.
The blocks can be used to run steam turbines at thermal power stations instead of burning coal – which is kind of a big deal because the technology is able store renewable energy cost-effectively to power the grid when solar and wind aren’t operational.
Plus, with the commercial viability of many coal and gas-fired power plants under scrutiny, the technology could mean otherwise stranded power stations may have a second life as part of the renewable energy grid.
The new funds will be used to scale the company’s manufacturing capacity to build hundreds of thousands of blocks per month, and to export the thermal energy storage systems globally.
CEO Erich Kisi said the company’s mission is to help accelerate the shift to renewable energy by “providing a new way to store energy that’s clean, economical and scalable.”
“We believe that thermal storage will play an important role in the energy transition, and are overwhelmed with international and domestic interest to date,” he said.
And considering that the MGA blocks are able to store millions of kilowatt-hours of energy, he could be right.
To put this in context, a stack of 1000 blocks — about the size of a small car — stores enough energy to power 27 homes for 24 hours.
And the potential use cases are extensive.
“Whether it’s retrofitting our thermal power stations, providing power to remote communities, supplying heat to industry, heating houses and commercial spaces, or heating for electric vehicles, this can all be powered using renewable energy stored in our MGA blocks,” Kisi said.
Basically, the MGA alloys are made up of two components – one of these will melt, while the other stays solid.
The melting phase is dispersed as fine grains, and the non-melting phase forms a continuous matrix.
Then when heat is applied, the fine grains melt, storing energy, while the matrix phase holds everything together and rapidly distributes heat.
The resulting structure exhibits the high energy storage capacity and constant temperature storage of a phase change system while macroscopically behaving as a continuously solid, modular block.
In layman’s terms, this means that there are no expensive containment issues normally seen when trying to store high-temperature phase change materials.
Plus, the company only uses abundant and safe starting materials that exhibit a miscibility gap, so the materials can be cycled a huge number of times while losing little or no storage capacity.