MIT and Princeton University Researchers Explore Long-Duration Energy Storage Applications

June 14, 2021 by Alessandro Mascellino

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Princeton University have announced new efforts toward energy transition applications with improved storage.

According to Nestor Sepulveda, one of the scientists who worked on the project, the research project’s goal is to use a mix of energy sources to “decarbonize society in the most affordable way.”

The research’s findings particularly refer to long-duration energy storage (LDES) technologies and were originally published in Nature Energy.

Image courtesy of Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.
Image courtesy of Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.


Fostering Technical Excellency 

The new study was conducted by Sepulveda, a postdoc at MIT and a researcher with the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), together with colleague Dharik Mallapragada.

Additional input for the research was provided by Aurora Edington, a consultant at The Cadmus Group, and Richard K. Lester, the Japan Steel Industry Professor and associate provost at MIT. The study’s scope is, however, beyond mere academic research, as the team believes that insights from the research could already be deployed in real-world applications.

“We show how promising LDES technologies could be,” explained Sepulveda. “But we also show that these technologies are not the one solution and that we are still better off with them complementing firm resources.”

To this end, the project provides a comprehensive cost and performance evaluation of the role of LDES technologies in improving the efficiency of energy systems. The project was funded via a grant from the National Science Foundation, as well as by MITEI’s Low-Carbon Energy Center for Electric Power Systems.


Exploring LDES Technologies

The term LDES usually refers to a class of technologies capable of responding to the variable output of renewables, discharging electrons for continuous periods of time. Thanks to these capabilities, LDES technologies show promise for the large-scale deployment of renewable power applications.

“If we want to rely overwhelmingly on wind and solar power for electricity — increasingly the most affordable way to decrease carbon emissions — we have to deal with their intermittency,” said Jenkins.

In the new research, the MIT and Princeton University teams explored whether LDES paired with renewables and short-duration energy storage options such as lithium-ion batteries could potentially trigger a substantial and cost-effective transition to a decarbonized grid.

They also tested LDES systems to test if the technology could in time replace low-carbon energy sources like nuclear power and natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration.


A New Energy Transition

According to the research’s results, long-duration energy storage could make a large impact in pushing many applications towards a more affordable and reliable energy transition.

These technologies in particular could reportedly offer a 10% reduction in the costs of deeply decarbonized electricity systems if the storage energy capacity cost remains under the threshold of $20/kilowatt-hour. 

The value would increase to roughly 40 percent if the energy capacity cost of future technologies can be reduced to $1/kWh. For context, the current storage energy capacity cost of batteries is around $200/kWh.

Moreover, due to current electricity demand patterns, the LDES energy capacity cost would need to fall below $10/kWh to replace nuclear power. To replace all firm power options entirely, LDES cost must fall below $1/kWh.

Despite these temporary limitations, however, the researchers are sure LDES represents the future of more efficient and affordable storage applications.

“We must develop and deploy LDES and improve other low-carbon technologies this decade, so we can present real alternatives to policymakers and power system operators,” Jenkins concluded.

For more information about the new research, you can follow this link here.