In the ongoing quest to green the grid, the startup LightSail Energy, in conjunction with Peter Thiel, Bill Gates, and Khosla Ventures, has raised $37.3 million dollars to innovate compressed air energy storage technology. LightSail Energy emerged from cloak mode to announce the development of advanced technology that releases compressed air on command, essentially operating like an air-based battery for the electrical grid.
Despite the somewhat archaic technology, compressed air is still valuable because it utilizes energy from a power plant and uses it to run air compressors that then pump air into tanks or underground caverns where the air is stored under pressure. On command, the released air can power a turbine which then generates electricity. Unfortunately, compressed air technology has not had a huge following. Globally, Alabama and Germany are home to two of a miniscule number of compressed air storage projects.
However, interest in compressed air technology has had a resurgence in the past few years, and some startups like Sustain X and General Compression have focused on making this technology more efficient. For instance, LightSail innovated the compression process by using water spray. SustainX has focused on isothermal compressed air energy storage. For its very first project, General Compression has begun working with partner and investor ConocoPhillips to develop compressed air energy storage projects in Texas.
The US government has taken notice and sees this method of energy storage a potential investment opportunity. The Department of Energy awarded SustainX and power company AEA a $5.39 million grant to begin an air energy storage project that will ultimately lead to compressed air commercialization. Projections for a global market for energy storage may top $31.5 billion dollars by 2017.