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Scientists Plan to Use Subterranean Volcanic Rock Formations for Energy Storage

Many hopes rely on renewable energy development. It is thought that renewable energy sources hold the key to saving the planet by reducing reliance on greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels, and that continued energy production in the future may only be possible from renewable sources, once reserves of oil and natural gas have been exhausted.

One of the biggest problems holding back renewable energy is the fact that the sources of the energy, predominantly the wind and the sun, are not constant. The sun disappears at night, or on cloudy days, meaning that solar panels produce very little power, and the wind constantly shifts depending on the local pressure systems, preventing wind turbines from generating a steady output.

The best way of overcoming this problem is by developing grid-scale energy storage systems, that can store excess energy produced during times of high output, and then released as and when needed during times of low output.

Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the Bonneville Power Administration, have been studying the possibility of using porous, volcanic rocks as a natural, large-scale battery system. They believe that pressured air could be pumped into the underground rocks, and then stored for months, being released as and when needed to convert into electricity.

Related article: Nuclear Energy Innovation is Vital for Slowing Climate Change

The study focussed on subterranean basalt rocks in the eastern part of Washington, and the idea is to use excess renewable energy to pump air under high pressure down into the rock from where it should be unable to escape. This method of energy storage is known as compressed air energy storage (CAES).

An example of basalt rock
An example of basalt rock, full of holes in which the compressed air will be stored. (Meteorites.wustl)

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Haresh Kamath, the energy storage program manager with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), said that the air trapped in the rock would be safe and stable, stating; “we’re talking about air far below the water table, in the kinds of places where you would find things like fossil fuels.” He went on to explain that oil and natural gas had been trapped in “similar rock formations for millions of years under pressure, and nobody notices anything at ground level.”

The National Geographic reported that team of scientists have used geological data from previous petroleum exploration projects in the area to determine two feasible locations where the volcanic rock could store enough energy to power 85,000 homes a month.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com

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  • jon on July 06 2013 said:
    Couldn't this be used in oil fields - pump air into the wells which pushes out oil and when 'empty' sealed to allow continued pumping for extraction of compressed air energy later?

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