Tech

Photoncycle targets low-cost energy storage with a clever hydrogen solution

For years, the solar energy industry has struggled with cross-seasonal energy storage. The ability to harness excess solar energy from the summer months for use during the winter remains an elusive goal, with existing solutions such as batteries falling short due to prohibitive costs and long operating times. limited life. Hydrogen, on the other hand, despite its clean burning properties, has been pushed aside due to its inefficiency and high costs.

Photoncycle – a startup emerging from the depths of an accelerator at Oslo Science Park, Norway – is working on a solution. With a vision as bright as the summer sun, the startup claims its solid hydrogen technology can store energy more efficiently in an ammonia synthesis reactor. The claim is that this technology performs storage more cost-effectively than any battery or liquid hydrogen solution on the market.

A diagram of how Photoncycle envisions its complete system when installed in a home. Image credits: Photocycle

“Lithium-ion batteries use expensive metals. Our equipment is super cheap: to store 10,000 kilowatt hours, it costs about $1,500, so it’s almost nothing. Additionally, our storage solution has 20 times the density of a lithium-ion battery and you don’t lose power,” explains founder and CEO Bjørn Brandtzaeg in an interview with TechCrunch. “This means we have a system where you can contain the energy over time, allowing for seasonal storage. It’s completely different from traditional batteries.

Photoncycle uses water and electricity to produce hydrogen. This in itself is not uncommon if you follow fuel cell vehicle technology. However, the company’s approach incorporates an innovative twist: a high-temperature reversible fuel cell. This advanced fuel cell can produce hydrogen and generate electricity in the same unit.

The heart of Photoncycle’s innovation lies in its processing of hydrogen. They process the hydrogen and then use its technology to convert and store it in solid form. The company claims that this storage method is not only safe, due to the non-flammable and non-explosive nature of the solid state, but also very efficient. It enables the storage of hydrogen at densities approximately 50% higher than liquid hydrogen, representing a significant advancement in hydrogen storage solutions. These innovations form the cornerstone of Photoncycle’s system, facilitating safe and dense storage of hydrogen, which the company says is a huge step forward in energy technology.

Current clean energy solutions, such as rooftop solar, are limited by erratic supply due to the unpredictable nature of weather conditions. A robust, reusable energy storage solution could bridge these delays, ensuring a stable energy supply when these renewable sources encounter unavoidable intermittent periods.

Great in theory, but not without its own challenges.

“The Netherlands is the country in Europe with the highest density of rooftop solar energy. We are currently seeing a sharp increase due to high energy prices; everyone wants rooftop solar,” Brandtzaeg says. He adds, however, that this method can turn against owners: “In July last year, in the Netherlands, in broad daylight, you had to pay €500 per megawatt hour to export your electricity.”

By combining energy storage with the home that produces the electricity, homes can be taken off-grid. Photoncycle claims to have tested and operated the main components of its solution. The next step is to integrate it into a system. If successful, the company says it could seriously compete with Powerwall, Tesla’s lithium-ion battery solution.

David Gerez, CTO at Photoncycle, and Ole Laugerud, chemist at Photoncycle, in Photoncycle’s purpose-built laboratory, which has been operational for almost two years. Image credits: Photocycle

“It’s a relatively complex system – that’s why we have so many PhDs in different disciplines working on this topic. The reason Elon Musk said hydrogen is stupid is because when you convert electricity to hydrogen and vice versa, you lose a lot of the energy,” says Brandtzaeg. He thinks his company can turn this bug into a feature. “In a residential environment where 70% of energy needs are devoted to heating, it is possible to use this excess heat to produce hot water. We will target markets where people currently use natural gas for heating, then replace the home’s gas boiler using existing water infrastructure.

Brandtzaeg’s confidence in the operational framework of the concept is convincing. He pointed to a small model of their operating plant located in their laboratories, shrunk to the size of a car battery. Brandtzaeg believes this scaling should go smoothly, citing this as the main reason they felt confident moving forward with the project.

When it comes to energy supply, hydrogen takes a little time to produce electricity. Thus, during its production, the company relies on an intermediate, more conventional battery to balance the charge. The company is certainly getting investors’ attention: Photocycle has just raised $5.3 million (5 million euros) to build its first energy storage devices in Denmark, which Photoncycle has chosen as a test market.

“We could have raised 10 times more, given the interest. But after this increase, I am still the majority shareholder,” says Brandtzaeg. “I wanted to maintain control of the company as long as possible and not raise more capital than we needed to bring this service to market.”

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