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26 August 2021

$100m and $60m plowed into Energy Vault and Malta storage

The race is well and truly on for scale adoption of long term energy storage and this week two separate approaches each received significant funding rounds – Switzerland’s Energy Vault with another $100 million and Malta the Massachusetts-based thermal heat storage firm closed a $60 million round.

This is the second slice of $100 million class funding, with Softbank leading a 2019 $110 million round that rocketed Energy Vault into the spotlight.

Energy Vault has since built a full scale version of its product and “productized” its approach considerably – it relies on using cranes to build skyscraper-high piles of 35 ton weights, where the crane either uses energy to take the blocks upwards, or gives off electrical energy by using the crane as a turbine as it lowers them. Energy Vault’s system also uses machine vision based AI software to autonomously orchestrate the lifting and lowering of the blocks.

It is a US idea that came out of the Idealab incubator and it built its demonstrator project in Switzerland. The initial design in a full stack was expected to deliver 4 MW of energy and contain some 35 MWh, at a capex price of just $200 per KWh with the first order from Tata Power.

This new investment of $100 million is led by existing investor Prime Movers Lab, plus cash from existing investors SoftBank Vision Fund, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, Helena, and Idealab X, plus new investors, Pickering Energy Partners Energy Equity Opportunity Fund, SailingStone Global Energy Transition, A.T. Gekko, Crexa Capital Advisors, Green Storage Solutions Venture I, and Gordon Crawford.

This last funding round was semi-announced, although not the value, but that Saudi Aramco had invested an unspecified amount of cash back in June, when it also described its slightly adapted architecture EVx, which was designed working with a number of large utility firms including ENEL Green Power, which helped optimize it to make it more flexible, and address both higher power and longer duration needs.

EVx offers high round-trip efficiency of 80% to 85%, long technical life of over 35 years, a sustainable supply chain, and composite bricks instead of concrete, which can be made up of waste materials including coal waste. It is scalable and can be built out in 10MWh increments which can scale to multi-GWh capacity.

It can now be configured for high power, shorter duration (2-6 hours) or longer duration storage applications (6-12 hours+). It is 45% lower in height and the block weights can be made from waste and remediation materials such as coal combustion residuals (coal ash), fiberglass from de-commissioned wind turbine blades and waste tailings from mining processes. Whoever thought of that is a genius since people will pay you to take such materials away and they can usually be sourced locally and this will have changed the economics of the application immeasurably, while doing away with concrete will also eliminate a few tons of CO2 in the system’s manufacture.

Saudi Aramco has specifically mentioned the supply of clean drinking water applications, which it will use Energy Vault for, and it is well known that most of Saudi Arabia’s water comes from desalination of the sea – an energy hungry, but constant process.

The capital raised will be used to ramp up multi-continent deployments in the US, Middle East, Europe, and Australia beginning with the US in the fourth quarter of 2021, with a broader global ramp throughout 2022. We get the impression that the company will need at least one more funding round, but perhaps then go public once it has more installations, and then scale through the US public markets.

Meanwhile at US heat pump firm Malta another $60 million has been found by Chevron Technology Ventures, joining alongside Piva Capital with existing investors Proman, Alfa Laval, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. This is really a $10 million extension to its B series funding announced in February, which has made room for two new investors. The money will be used to go to market.

The system is referred to as a pumped heat energy storage systems of (PHES) and it takes in renewable energy and uses a highly efficient heat pump to create a cool and a hot thermal store. Heat pumps are incredibly efficient, often developing a co-efficient of performance of 3 times the energy used. They don’t “make” the heat, just collect what heat it is, so they may appear to break the laws of thermodynamics by generating more energy than they started with, but actually they don’t, because they are drawing it from elsewhere. Malta uses an Air-loop Brayton-cycle heat pump and the company has only been around since 2018 and began as one of the many Google Moonshot ideas, which has since been spun out.

The company claims its technology can produce a daily or weekly load cycle by efficiently storing up to 200 hours of energy to be used as either dispatchable electricity or heat for industrial and district heat applications.

In May is announced a deal whereby US investor owned utility Duke Energy would explore turning a coal plant into a clean energy storage facility, effectively acting as a guinea pig building a 100 MW 10 hours energy store, paid for by a DoE grant, and giving it another option rather than investing in lithium ion battery storage.

Malta talks about converting retiring coal units into long-duration, zero-emissions energy storage systems by integrating a heat energy storage system which is largely based on molten salt. In July its signed up for a series of essential components from Siemens which the two will co-develop for long-duration energy storage.