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By Shane Lasley
Metal Tech News 

Studio X empowers Economical Energy

Metal Tech News - October 23, 2023


Last updated 11/1/2023 at 11:53am

Illustrated graphic of the Viper underground renewable energy storage tech.

Economical Energy

The closed-loop Viper underground system provides a means of storing renewable energy with a smaller surface footprint.

Australian startup, its underground renewable energy tech, selected to join Shell-backed accelerator studio.

Economical Energy's potentially game-changing Viper underground renewable energy storage system has joined Studio X, a global energy and climate technology innovations accelerator program powered by Shell.

"The Studio X accelerator program is excited to have Economical Energy as part of the 2023 cohort," said Max Gray, director of the Studio X accelerator program. "Their innovative solution to Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES) will play a key role in meeting the future energy supply and demand equation, as well as adding stability to power grid infrastructure in times of energy instability.

Standing for Vertically Integrated Potential Energy Reservoir, Viper is an intricately engineered underground gravity battery that automates the long-term storage of energy from intermittent sources such as wind and solar.

Viper utilizes excess energy on breezy or sunny days to lift buckets full of specially engineered pellets from an underground storage chamber to a storage area on surface. When there is not enough solar or wind energy to keep the lights on, gravity slowly pulls the buckets full of pellets back down to the lower storage chamber, delivering the stored energy back to the grid.

"The next decades will need abundant LDES solutions and Economical Energy's technology is poised to play a key role in that supply," said Gray.

Pumped hydro with pellets

While this utilization of gravity as a means of storing renewable energy is the same basic principle as pumped hydro, which utilizes excess energy to pump water to an upper reservoir and generate power when the water flows downhill, the Viper system offers both technical and environmental advantages.

On the technical front, pumped hydro requires two elements to work – water and a hill or some higher-level location to build an upper reservoir. These elements can often be hard to come by, especially in desert locales that are often the best place to generate solar energy.

Viper, on the other hand, creates its own elevation change by simply mining out an underground shaft and chambers. The pellets to be used by Viper are 2.5 times heavier than water, which means that their potential to store energy is that much greater. On a one-to-one comparison – not accounting for evaporation or not capturing water's full gravity potential as it flows through turbines – the Viper pellets could generate the same amount of energy with an 800-meter elevation change as pumped hydro could with 2,000 meters.

This plays into one of the environmental advantages of Economic Energy's storage solution, the more energy-dense pellets coupled with most of the infrastructure being underground, the overall surface footprint is much smaller.

"We distinctly describe it as pumped hydro but with pellets," said Matthew Forrest, founder and managing director of Economical Energy. "You take the best aspects of pumped hydro and negate the adverse side effects."

Great minds think alike

Early this year, a team of researchers led by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) published a scientific paper that makes a compelling case for underground gravity energy storage systems that transform existing underground mines into gravity storage systems.

"To decarbonize the economy, we need to rethink the energy system based on innovative solutions using existing resources," said Behnam Zakeri, a coauthor of the study and researcher in the energy, climate, and environment program at IIASA. "Turning abandoned mines into energy storage is one example of many solutions that exist around us, and we only need to change the way we deploy them."

While developed independently, the systems proposed by IIASA and Viper are very similar. The primary difference is that IIASA proposes utilizing legacy underground mines, which has the advantage of leveraging and repurposing existing infrastructure, while Environmental Energy's proposal leans more toward digging new underground shafts, which has the advantages of placement flexibility and underground development that is engineered to hold the Viper system.

Both ideas have gained a lot of attention from individuals and companies seeking climate solutions.

"Over the last 12 months, the UGES (Underground Energy Storage) paper has become the most viewed paper in the Energies Journal. At the time of writing the paper, we had not heard of the Viper technology," said Julian Hunt, lead author of the paper. "When Economical Energy reached out to me, I was ecstatic to learn that we had independently come up with very similar concepts for cheap energy storage. I look forward to seeing the Viper technology developed."

Australia-based Economical Energy was happy to see the paper published by IIASA garner such wide acclaim.

"Great minds think alike," Michael Short, a mining engineer who is part of the Economical Energy technical team, told Metal Tech News.

Studio X Accelerator

The great minds behind Economical Energy's Viper renewable energy storage technology have attracted not only Studio X but also ATP Fund, an early-stage venture catalyst established to empower scientific visionaries innovating to solve humanity's grand challenges for a brighter and more sustainable future.

As a venture capital partner with Studio X, ATP fund said it is excited to be partnering with Forrest and the team behind Viper.

"We continue to be impressed with the early iterations of the Viper technology and their game-changing approach to long duration energy storage," said Kyle Cox, managing partner of ATP Fund.

Illustrated graphic of the IIASA underground energy storage tech proposal.

Hunt et al.

The battery storage concept put forward by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis is very similar to the Viper system Economical Energy has developed.

Forrest said the level of technical due diligence that Studio X and ATP Fund carried out on Economical Energy's Viper energy storage solution is by far the most sophisticated to date.

"Their understanding of the complexities of the underground environment were particularly relevant," he said. "I feel that their decision to invest is a strong vote of confidence in us and our Viper technology."

As part of the third cohort of the Studio X Accelerator Program, Economical Energy will be able to leverage the investment, mentorship, and access to world-class industry experts offered by the California-based energy innovations accelerator.

"Our accelerator program helps to close that gap through bringing together an engaged community that grows these companies at a faster rate, ultimately driving innovation, and helping to evolve global energy solutions," said Studio X CEO Jeff Allyn.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

With more than 15 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 907-726-1095


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