As Europe braces for a difficult winter, with energy prices still high and energy supplies at risk, the energy efficiency challenge feels more urgent than ever.
One European company that has been working hard to provide a solution is German-based Kraftblock.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has highlighted the fragility of Europe’s current gas supply setup; and the problem has not been limited to Europe, as the energy shock has been felt worldwide. The natural response would seem to be to accelerate the development of green energy, notably solar and wind; after all, Europe has committed to greatly increasing the share of renewable energy in its supply mix and reducing the role of fossil fuels – Europe aims to become carbon-neutral by 2050. The obvious, recognized obstacle is that the sun does not shine on demand, nor does the wind blow whenever we need it to. Energy, instead, is needed on demand in order to keep people warm and the factories running.
Energy storage provides the obvious bridge between production and consumption; but developing efficient energy storage solutions that can be scaled cost-effectively has proved hard.
Here is where KraftBlock comes in. It has developed a solution that stores energy in the form of thermal energy, i.e. heat.
As Martin Schichtel, founder and CEO of Kraftblock, explains in this recent podcast interview, its Net Zero Heat System is a multi-functional high-temperature energy storage system. What makes the system special, in Schichtel’s view is that:
- It stores heat at extremely high temperatures: about 1,300 degrees Centigrade (or about 2,400 Fahrenheit), which makes it applicable to a variety of industrial uses;
- Charging and discharging are integrated into the storage unit itself (hence the “system” label), which means the customer gets a turnkey solution;
- Finally, “multifunctional” indicates a high degree of flexibility in both the charging and discharging phases, that is to say the system can be charged with a variety of energy sources and it can feed a variety of energy uses.
For example, Schichtel notes, a Kraftblock system can be charged through “waste heat recycling”: industries like steel, ceramics and glass generate a large amount of heat; Kraftblock can capture this heat, which otherwise might simply be allowed to dissipate, and save it in its storage unit. Alternatively, a Kraftblock storage unit could be charged with renewable energy from wind or solar sources. And when no renewable or recyclable energy sources are available, the storage unit could be charged by electricity from the grid, converted into heat.
Similarly, the energy stored in a Net Zero Heat System can then be used directly as heat, or converted into electricity to power a variety of energy-based applications.
As Schichtel acknowledges, the waste heat recycling applications will probably at some point be less relevant, as the industries concerned are developing integrated solutions to limit heat waste. Exploiting waste heat, therefore, is a bridge solution – currently a very important one – to a future where renewable energy will play the predominant role, and Kraftblock will hopefully be instrumental to its deployment. In this context, Kraftblock’s solution offers another advantage: the relatively low cost of storing thermal energy makes it a very cost-effective option for long-term energy storage.
The energy crisis is proving to be a formidable accelerator. Schichtel recounts that even just two years ago, some new customers were reluctant to try Kraftblock’s systems because at the time they had only been developed at relatively low scale, about 4 megawatt-hours – they were reluctant to take a risk on the development of a larger power system. Today the roles have been reversed, says Schichtel: “today we are the ones saying, why don’t build a pilot first, say at 50 megawatt-hours? And the customers respond no, let’s go ahead, there’s no time to waste, we have to move from gas to renewables.”
It looks line Europe’s energy industry will not let this crisis go to waste – especially not where waste heat can still be captured.