Scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have developed a simple method that could help balance the energy grid while also improving energy efficiency.
The study, which was published in the journal Nature Energy, involves a new design method that uses thermal energy storage to allow buildings to function as a huge battery by storing thermal energy in novel materials until it can be used later.
One example is a heat pump, while electricity is needed initially to create and store the heat, the heat can then be used later without using additional electricity.
This process could make the heating and cooling of buildings more efficient and less expensive.
The researchers have described that this method mirrors an idea used for batteries by helping to inform what new thermal storage materials are needed for buildings and how the devices should be designed with these materials.
The researchers developed a computer model to understand the various design tradeoffs with these thermal storage devices, including ones that require high power and low power.
Jason Woods, a senior research engineer at NREL and lead author of the newly published paper, said: ‘This framework ensures the cost-effective design of thermal storage materials and devices depending on the power and energy requirements of a particular application.
‘Thermal energy storage systems will need to become more flexible and adaptable with the addition of onsite power generation, electric vehicle charging, and the combination of thermal storage with batteries.
‘Part of this flexibility requires higher power – but this higher power comes at a cost of available energy, as this publication highlights.
‘This framework will allow us to optimize thermal storage systems from the material to the component scale to increase the power density while still accessing as much of the available capacity as possible. This will result in more efficient devices that can be used for a wide range of applications.’
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