ASX-listed thermal energy storage hopeful 1414 Degrees has hit a major bump on the road this week, after the results of a review of the company’s silicon-based technology found it falling short on key efficiency and reliability metrics.
The South Australia-based company’s share price fell by nearly 40% on Wednesday following the release of the technology and commercial update, which was based on a review commissioned by executive chairman Kevin Moriarty.
The review found that the 1414’s core technology, its long-duration thermal energy storage system (TESS), required further development work to be “commercially robust,” particularly in terms of efficiency and reliability.
The notably frank and transparent review update also found that earlier expectations for sales were “optimistic,” and that a fully developed electric charging TESS was not currently competitive with fossil fuel heating.
A second announcement on Thursday pushed the share price lower again – down to around $A0.062 from $A0.14 on Tuesday – after reporting that an initial business case evaluation for 1414 Degrees GAS-TESS pilot at the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant had been unsuccessful, for the reasons outlined in the review.
The company’s technology, and its name, is based around the very high melting point of silicon – 1414° Celsius – which, along with properties of high energy density means it can hold much more energy than other phase change materials.
1414’s thermal energy storage system (TESS) stores energy generated from electricity or gas and supplies both heat and electricity. The energy from the latent heat is recovered as very hot air that powers a turbine to produce heat and electricity when required.
Its plans include using South Australia’s abandoned Aurora Solar Tower Project as a site to pilot its TESS-GRID technology, which 1414 has claimed could deliver long-duration renewable energy storage services to a similar scale as the dumped concentrated solar project, and on par with pumped hydro.
This is still very much the expectation, 1414’s Moriarty told RenewEconomy on Thursday, who described the review as a “positive story,” and illustrative of the very purpose of pilots for emerging technologies.
“The big takeout of this is that what we should be preparing for … which is what we’ve always said, is large-scale long-duration storage – storage competitive with pumped hydro,” Moriarty said.
“(At the beginning at 1414 Degrees) we had a bunch of visionary shareholders and engineers. But … to deliver technology readiness at a commercial point requires a different skill set,” he said.
“What we’ve done over the last 18 months is hire scientists, people with doctorates and a lot of research in materials science, and also very highly qualified mechanical engineers.
“This is about building stuff that will work day in, day out, for a number of years. The reality is it’s going to take a lot of expertise to make this happen,” Moriarty added.
“So what’s really happened is the earlier vision is being taken over by a bunch of specialists and they are now delivering some very promising results… (technology) that’s robust and works.
“I said this last year, there are a lot of challenges to scaling up, and we’ve frankly found these out over the 12 months.”
So what have they found out? First, in terms of the larger pilot TESS, the review found that while systems performed well on generating power for up to eight hours, and “very efficiently” charging from gas or electricity, “key components of both the storage and energy recovery subsystems require(d) significant development to deliver reliable performance.”
Another important finding was that the prototype silicon storage technology could not sustain many cycles without degrading.
In terms of the GAS-TESS pilot at the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant, it’s back to the drawing board there, too, for reasons that the technology didn’t perform to the required efficiency specifications.
“SA Water said the GAS-TESS has potential for its future generation projects after demonstrating significant improvements in electrical efficiency,” the company said in its Thursday release.
“1414 Degrees will work with SA Water on a plan to progress development on the pilot site and will continue commercial discussions with wastewater treatment facilities.”
And in the Wednesday announcement, the company’s broader outlook on improving and scaling up the TESS technology remains positive.
“With the experience gained from the pilot installations, our now highly qualified technical team has mapped out a path to make the 1414 Degrees TESS technology competitive in the expanding long-duration energy storage market with comparable technologies such as pumped hydro and molten salt,” the statement says.
“Following their wide-ranging customer assessments and surveys of growth markets, our business development team have identified major commercial opportunities for the TESS in the well-funded markets for long-duration, grid-scale storage, and hybrid power plants.
“Further, in addition to preparing to service the utility market with the GAS-TESS, the commercial priority is to partner with utilities on large-scale innovative energy solutions.”