How One Company Is Trying To Save The World With Better Energy Storage

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This article is brought to you in partnership with Wärtsilä, a sponsor of IFLScience.

The shift to carbon-neutral energy production is paramount to reach the target of the Paris agreement. Renewable resources like wind and solar are at the forefront of this technological revolution. However, as is often noted, both energy sources are dependent on weather conditions.

The best way to turn these power stations from fluctuating to reliable sources is by storing what they can produce in the moments when they are working at full capacity. During periods in which the production level falls, the stored energy is ready to be used. This helps ensure continuous (or at least longer) service no matter the weather. If brave politicians were to seriously commit to shifting energy production to renewables, then there are a few ways they can deliver this.

Fossil fuel power stations could be used as backup generators, with nuclear power plants providing a baseline for energy need and renewables doing the extra work. In addition, massive battery farms could be linked to solar panels and wind turbines to store electricity. To help achieve these goals, Finnish company Wärtsilä Energy is working on several approaches that can be complementary to these.

With their SparkUp Energy challenge, Wärtsilä is looking for start-ups, scale-ups, and research groups that are developing Power-to-X technologies (the X standing in for gas, water, fuel etc) to harness the excess electricity produced from renewables. The excess electricity can then be used to fight pollution or for clean energy production.

These could be carbon capture technologies that will both reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the extraction of fossil fuels from beneath the ground. Of particular interest is the Power-to-Gas approach, which uses renewable energy to create fuels. Electricity is employed to combine CO2 and hydrogen extracted from water to produce a variety of hydrocarbon products, which can be turned into gas or liquid fuels. The company envisions a system of flexible electricity generation that uses these fuels for power as and when they're needed.

Also of interest is the Power-to-Plastic approach, which can take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into plastic that can then be reused in Power-to-Fuel technologies, where plastic that cannot be recycled is turned into usable fuel, and Power-To Water solutions, that use excess electricity to purify water and make it safe to drink.

Wärtsilä’s energy goal envisions a 100% renewable energy future. It is an ambitious goal but with the point of no return for the climate getting closer and closer, ambition is exactly what we need.

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