Is sand the future material to replace the lithium in the batteries of renewable energy technologies? This is the idea of a team of Finnish engineers who have just developed a new type of battery.
The Finnish company Polar Night Energy, based in Kankaanpää, in the west of the country, has just developed a battery whose main ingredient is sand. This new type of battery is actually a large steel tank installed in a power plant and filled with construction sand. It could potentially save 169.8 megatons of CO2 equivalent per year (between 56.6 megatons of CO2 and 283.1 megatons of CO2 per year) by 2030, according to Mission Innovation, a global clean energy initiative.
Strictly speaking, this battery will not be able to produce electricity as it will only be used to store the excess heat stored during the summer produced by solar and wind energy. On the other hand, it can heat homes, business premises or municipal facilities from next winter.
The sand stores heat around 500°C, allowing homes to be heated in winter, when energy is more expensive. A way of limiting energy consumption, both ecologically and politically and economically, as far as a third of energy consumption in Finland comes from Russia. Before May 14, 2022 (when the Putin-ruled country decided to completely stop energy supplies to the Scandinavian country), about 10% of Finland’s electricity supply came from Russia.
Alternative to lithium
The device developed by Polar Night Energy also has the advantage of being an alternative to lithium, a rare metal used for the production of photovoltaic panels and wind turbines (as well as smartphones and electric cars), but whose extraction is ecological and social. In addition, lithium is a rare metal, which threatens a shortage in the coming years.
Seen from this perspective, the use of sand to store energy therefore seems appropriate. But the amount of sand used in Polar Night Energy’s battery is not negligible, as more than a hundred tons are dumped into the dedicated tank.
Formed naturally from the erosion of rocks near water sources (oceans, seas, rivers, rivers, etc.), sand is the second most exploited natural resource after water, according to a United Nations report published in September. was published last April. But unlike water, there are few official regulations to ensure rational use of sand. A real social and environmental problem, as this resource is the subject of significant trade and illegal extraction, which causes conflict and leads to insecurity of the inhabitants of certain countries, such as India or Morocco.
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