As communities, cities, and states develop ambitious energy efficiency and decarbonization goals, energy storage is an increasingly critical component of our energy economy. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind are changing how we power our buildings, industries, and grid; however, they are intermittent ― we need continuous power even after the sun sets or the wind dies down. As such, energy storage is critical to ensuring continuous power and allows energy producers to take full advantage during times of overgeneration on sunny (or windy) days.

When it comes to short-duration energy storage, lithium-ion batteries are considered the front-runner, but batteries are not the whole story. Our buildings, businesses, industries, and grid need more storage, at lower cost, for longer durations, and at larger capacities than batteries can provide to displace fossil fuels for a sustainable future.

To meet this energy storage challenge, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are in the late stages of prototype testing a game-changing new thermal energy storage technology that uses inexpensive silica sand as a storage medium. Economic Long-Duration Electricity Storage by Using Low-Cost Thermal Energy Storage and High-Efficiency Power Cycle (ENDURING) is a reliable, cost-effective, and scalable solution that can be sited anywhere.

ENDURING uses electricity from surplus solar or wind to heat a thermal storage material — silica sand. Particles are fed through an array of electric resistive heating elements to heat them to 1,200°C (imagine pouring sand through a giant toaster). The heated particles are then gravity-fed into insulated concrete silos for thermal energy storage. The baseline system is designed for economical storage of up to a staggering 26,000 MWh of thermal energy. With modular design, storage capacity can be scaled up or down with relative ease.

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