Photoniccycles aim for low-cost energy storage with clever hydrogen solutions

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Over the years, the solar energy sector has grappled with inter-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 limited lifespans. Hydrogen, meanwhile, despite its clean-burning properties, has been sidelined due to inefficiency and high costs.

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

Schematic of how the Photocycle envisions the complete system when installed in a home. Image Credits: The photocycle

“Lithium-ion batteries use expensive metals. Our stuff is very cheap: to store 10,000 kilowatt-hours, it costs about $1,500, so it’s almost nothing. Furthermore, our storage solution is 20 times the density of lithium-ion batteries, and you don’t lose current,” explains founder and CEO Bjørn Brandtzaeg in an interview with TechCrunch. “That means we have a system where you can store energy over time, enabling seasonal storage. It’s a completely different thing than conventional batteries.”

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

The mainstay of the photocycle’s innovation lies in its treatment of hydrogen. They process the hydrogen and then use its technology to convert and store it into a solid. The company claims that this storage method is not only safe, but also highly efficient due to the non-flammable and non-explosive nature of the solid state. It enables hydrogen storage at a density about 50% higher than liquid hydrogen, representing a significant advance in hydrogen storage solutions. These innovations form the cornerstone of the PhotoCycle’s system, which facilitates safe and dense hydrogen storage, which the company says is a major step forward in energy technology.

Current clean energy solutions, such as rooftop solar power, are limited by inconsistent supply due to the unpredictable nature of weather conditions. When these renewable sources face inevitable intermittent periods a robust, renewable energy storage solution can overcome these periods, ensuring a stable energy supply.

Great in theory, but not without its own challenges.

“The Netherlands has the highest density of rooftop solar in Europe. Now we’re seeing a huge ramp up because of high energy prices; everyone wants solar on the roof,” says Brandzeg. However, he adds that the method has backfired for homeowners. Can: “Last year in July, in the Netherlands, in the middle of the day, You have to pay €500 per megawatt hour to export your electricity

Putting in energy storage takes homes off the grid while efficiently generating power for the home. PhotonCycle says it has tested and worked out key components of its solution – the next step is to integrate it into the system. If successful, the company says it could seriously challenge Tesla’s lithium-ion battery solution Powerwall.

David Garage, PhotonCycle’s CTO, and Ole Loggerud, a PhotonCycle chemist, in PhotonCycle’s purpose-built lab, which has been in operation for nearly two years. Image Credits: The photocycle

“This is a relatively complex system — that’s why we have so many PhDs in different disciplines working on it. Elon Musk’s reason that hydrogen is stupid is that when you convert electricity into hydrogen and back, you lose some energy,” Brandzeg says. He believes his company can turn this bug into a feature. “In a residential setting where 70% of energy needs are heating, there is an opportunity to use that excess heat to provide hot water. We will target markets where people are currently using natural gas for heating and then replace gas boilers in the home using existing water-based infrastructure.”

Brandtzeg’s confidence in the concept’s operational framework is striking. He pointed to a small mock-up of his operation plant in his lab, scaled down to the size of a car battery. Brandtzig believes that this scaling should be problem-free, citing it as the primary reason they had the confidence to move forward with the project.

When it comes to power delivery, hydrogen takes a while to generate electricity, so when it’s spooled up, the company relies on intermediary, more traditional, batteries for load balancing. The firm certainly has the attention of investors: The photocycle Just raised $5.3 million (€5 million) to build its first few power storage devices in Denmark, which PhotonCycle has chosen as its test market.

“We could have collected 10 times what we did, given the interest. But after this increase, I still own the majority,” says Brandzeg. “I wanted to control the business as much as possible and not raise more capital than was necessary to bring this service to market.”

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