Researchers Reinvent Firebricks – An Ancient Technology For Energy Storage

Power plant with firebrick-based thermal storage system

Power plant with firebrick-based thermal storage system. Credit: MIT

Renewable energy generation is becoming more and more advanced and also cost competitive as compared to the conventional fossil fuel energy generation. But storing this energy has always been a big challenge.

There have been technological breakthroughs such as DIY power packs or batteries being integrated into windmills and Tesla storage batteries.

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is studying old-school innovations to store this excess energy generated from renewable energy sources. The researchers have reinvented firebricks, which were created in the Bronze-Age by the Hittites, who were staying in what is called as Turkey today, in the 17th century BC. Hittites had designed firebricks to retain heat for a very long period if they were insulated properly. This invention can be a real game-changer for the renewable energy industry since the industry is facing a problem of storing the overproduced energy on windy and bright sunny days, and to utilise the stored energy on cloudy days.

The team has developed Firebrick Resistance-heated Energy Storage (FIRES) system. This device with the help of electric resistance heaters will convert the excess electricity into heat. It will be used to heat up a large mass of firebricks. The firebricks will retain the heat for a long period as they will be enclosed in an insulated casing, and later it can convert the heat back into electricity when needed. Or the heat can even be directly used for industrial processes when required. The researchers also say the cost of storing the energy will be around 1/40th the price of storing it into batteries. Also, it can make renewable energy industry profitable as the present energy storage system costs are very high.

In some countries, it is seen that very low or even negative pricing is offered when a large amount of electrical energy is pumped into the electricity grid by renewable energy producers. A proper technology is the need of an hour to correct this trend. FIRES can be a ground-breaking approach to solve the power grid problem. The economical method of storing the energy generated during low electricity market prices, especially when the renewables are generating a very large amount of electricity, and then releasing this stored energy to the grid when the market prices are high, it will rationalize the electricity pricing.

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