Global energy giant Shell has backed Australian clean energy startup MGA Thermal, supporting the company’s plans to develop a long-duration renewable energy storage system that can potentially transform coal-fired power plants into green energy hubs.
Although Shell has committed just US$400,000 ($560,000) through its Shell GameChanger program for energy startups, MGA Thermal’s chief commercial officer Mark Croudace says the grant puts the company in the global spotlight of a market conservatively estimated by consultancy McKinsey to be worth US$1.5 trillion ($2.2 trillion) by 2040.
“The fact that we have a global tier one major interested in accelerating this, providing their lead technical support globally to us, and of course throwing their brand behind it, is probably worth a lot more to us than the actual funding itself,” Croudace tells Business News Australia.
Shell’s grant will be used by MGA Thermal for its $3 million energy storage pilot program located at the company’s new manufacturing facility at Tomago near Newcastle.
The facility, which is just 12 metres long and 3 metres wide, has a storage capacity of 5 megawatt-hours, with the ability to discharge up to 500 kilowatts for 10 hours - enough to power 1,000 homes.
Croudace says the initial pilot will be followed by client pilots with capacity of up to 100 megawatt-hours.
“The next stage of our journey will be the equivalent of decarbonising 20,000 homes per site.”
Croudace says scaling beyond this level will deliver what he describes as “societal change” in the move towards decarbonising electricity supply.
“The main game is that we are allowing renewables to go 24-7.”
The MGA Thermal concept comprises a series of shoebox-sized thermal energy storage blocks which are designed specifically for energy storage and which offer higher density than traditional energy storing materials.
Miscibility gap alloy (MGA) blocks, which are stackable and can be amassed to scale up to a required energy supply, are created using metal alloy particles that are dispersed throughout a matrix material.
Sourcing power from renewables, such as solar and wind farms, these alloys melt as energy is absorbed while the outer matrix material remains solid, keeping the molten particles in place and rapidly distributing the heat. The solid-to-liquid phase change stores the energy which is then released as the blocks cool and the metal particles solidify. The blocks can store and deliver energy at a constant output temperature while remaining outwardly solid.
The energy stored in MGA blocks also can be used directly as heat to create “green steam” for industrial processes or drive electricity generating systems that effectively delivers 24-7 power from renewables.
Croudace sees the MGA Thermal system complementing rather than competing with lithium batteries by providing significantly longer-duration energy dispatch that evens out the intermittent nature of renewable energy.
“It fills the missing gap to enable renewables to succeed and that’s why this long-duration energy storage market is on the cusp of exploding,” says Croudace.
“There is a raft of companies and technologies aiming to fill that long-duration energy storage void, and I believe MGA Thermal will be one of those companies that will succeed.
“We’ve designed our solution from scratch. Our energy density is about three times most of our competitors. The higher the energy density, the capex required shrinks proportionally and for any site you want to repurpose, such as a brownfield site, our solution has a much smaller footprint than competing technologies.
“We’ve realised across one study that we are over 20 times the energy density on a land-use basis than a lithium-ion battery installation.
“The decarbonisation and societal benefit over the lifespan of the energy storage system is enormous.”
Shell’s funding, in conjunction with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is expected to accelerate the MGA Thermal pilot which will be commissioned in April and provide essential data about the technology to boost its credentials in commercial industrial and power markets.
“We’ve also created a stakeholder reference group with over 30 different participants around the world joining in and putting forward some use cases for us to run and test out at that facility over this calendar year,” says Croudace.
“We want to ensure we have a demonstration unit running this calendar year in parallel to the scale-up of our manufacturing plant so we can be supplying client demonstration units short term.”
Croudace reveals that commercial discussions are also under way with MGA Thermal fielding inquiries for $2.4 billion in commercial value for its technology.
Shell GameChanger’s Matt McDonald says MGA Thermal was chosen from “dozens of quality applicants to a long-duration energy storage call for solutions”.
“I am excited that Shell can support MGA Thermal’s pilot project and their ambitions to enable the storage of renewable energy. We look forward to seeing their progress and to continue lending Shell support and expertise.”
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