Houston company hopes to store renewable energy in salt domes – Houston Chronicle

Beneath a salt dome near where the first major oil field was discovered outside Beaumont, Houston-based Renewable Storage Co. hopes to begin storing energy. But it won’t be crude or other chemicals that are typically stored beneath the salt formations across the Texas Coast.

Instead, it will be compressed air that, when released, will turn a turbine to generate electricity in a pinch. It’s being called a mechanical battery, and if the company can wrap up Series A fundraising with enough capital, it could be operating by late 2023 and the first of its kind in Texas.

Art Gelber, one of the partners behind the Houston-based Renewable Storage Company, said only a handful of similar batteries exist in the world, including one in Alabama and one in Germany. The battery he hopes to build, however, differs in that it will not use natural gas or hydrocarbons to generate power.

“When it comes to making renewables more reliable power, generators and consumers don’t want to go backwards,” he said. “It is imperative that generators and consumers have a way to use 100 percent fossil-free energy all day, every day.”

He said the battery, called Greenstore, works sort of like a balloon. When there’s an abundance of cheap electricity on the grid, air compressors will inject high volumes of air into the salt caverns, which are impervious. Then when grid conditions get tight, wholesale prices shoot up and there’s a need for more power, the battery releases some of that compressed air to turn a turbine that, in turn, generates electricity.

But the air pushed out of the battery cools as it expands, which can make it difficult for it turn the generator. Other mechanical batteries use natural gas to heat the air as it leaves, but Renewable Storage is working with the U.S. Department of Energy to test a new system that would use heavily insulated concrete blocks that would be heated when compressed air enters the salt dome. The blocks would heat the air that leaves. That, Gelber said, gives it an edge when it comes to carbon emissions.

Gelber said they’re looking to sell that energy storage capacity to wind generators, which may soon be on the hook financially for times when the wind isn’t blowing and they’re not producing electricity.

About 28 percent of the electricity produced in Texas has come from wind and solar so far this year, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state grid manager and more solar and wind projects are being proposed. As more renewable energy comes online, battery storage will be key to ensure that the state’s power grid remains reliable and less dependent on weather patterns. Gelber said his company and other battery companies will play a key role.

“We see how renewables are different than hydrocarbons, but we believe the innovation and leadership Texans have shown in oil and gas can help create new opportunities for the energy capital of the world,” he said.

shelby.webb@chron.com

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