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From abandoned mines, scientists proposed to make gravitational batteries.

Published: 2023-01-13

Shafts of abandoned mines can become the basis for the creation of gravitational accumulators, scientists from the Austrian International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) believe. Mines already have the necessary infrastructure for this and can be relatively easily adapted for backup energy storage needs. This may be relevant for countries such as the United States, Russia, China and India, where resources have been mined for a long time and on a large scale.

Gravity accumulators accumulate energy in weights raised to a height. At times of peak electricity consumption, the load descends and generates energy in the generator. During the period of excess electricity in the network, the cargo returns to the height until the next need for energy. In the case of mines, the tunnels can be filled with sand, which eliminates the return of cargo to a height and even promises a positive energy output. The unloading of sand will be carried out by automatic conveyors and dump trucks, as well as, in fact, the loading of sand at a height into the elevator.

The researchers estimate that the global energy storage potential in abandoned mines could be between 7 and 70 TWh, as they reported in a paper in the journal Energies. Most installations can be located in countries that already have a large number of abandoned mines, such as China, India, Russia and the United States.

“When a mine closes, it lays off thousands of workers [...] UGES will create several job vacancies as the mine will provide energy storage services after the shutdown,” said lead author Julian Hunt of IIASA. “The mines already have the basic infrastructure and are connected to the power grid, which significantly reduces the cost and facilitates the introduction of UGES stations.”

It must be said that the idea of gravitational energy storage is already actively embodied in pumped-storage facilities, when water is pumped to a height at times of excess energy and is generated during peak consumption hours by dumping it through turbines. A similar principle (less commonly) is also used to store energy in injected air. With mines, this can also be interesting, although in this case you have to monitor the accident rate of underground structures, and this can be quite expensive.