MIT turns to millennia-old tech for renewable energy storage

BY BARBARA ELDREDGE


Firebrick technology invented by Hittites in 17th century BC is being repurposed for a modern use

With renewable energy sources becoming more and more advanced, storing that energy means big business. While we’ve seen technological breakthroughs enabling everything from DIY powerpacks to batteries integrated into windmills, one team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is looking to old-school innovations for next-generation energy storage techniques. How old school? Over three millennia.

Indeed, MIT researchers have reinvented firebricks, a Bronze-Age technology created by the Hittites—who occupied what is today Turkey, in the 17th century BC. Firebricks were designed by the Hittites to retain heat for long periods of time, if properly insulated.

A hypothetical firebrick-based thermal storage system.

 

Such a device would be immensely useful today, according to the MIT team, citing a high demand for industrial heat. The team’s Firebrick Resistance-heated Energy Storage (FIRES) system stores thermal energy (heat) in firebricks and later converts the energy back into electricity. Oh, and storing this energy costs 1/40th the price of putting it into batteries.

This solution could be a game-changer for the renewable energy industry, which has always suffered from the problem of over-producing on some days when the wind or sun are strong and under-producing on others.

“I believe FIRES is an innovative approach to solve a real power grid problem,” said Regis Matzie, an electric expert not affiliated with the research told Global Construction Review. He continues:

The current skewed electricity market produces low or even negative market prices when a significant fraction of electrical energy on the grid is provided by renewables. A very positive way to correct this trend would be to deploy an economical way of storing the energy generated during low electricity market prices, such as when the renewables are generating a large amount of electricity, and then releasing this stored energy when the market prices are high.