In the latest of our Q&As with the innovators selected for Energy Australia’s inaugural Startupbootcamp program, we talk to Dr George Prassinos, founder of OXTO Energy. Dr Prassinos explains the benefits of flywheel energy storage [FES] systems – which store kinetic energy in a spinning rotor – and outlines his company’s latest advances in the field.
In simple terms, what are you hoping to achieve?
OXTO is currently developing a mechanical type of battery – a FES battery – for grid-based applications and electric-vehicle charging stations. The idea is that this battery will store energy generated from renewable sources. It’s significant because FES systems don’t contain any chemicals and OXTO’s in particular doesn’t contain any rare-earth metals, either. FES is actually one of the oldest energy-storage technologies, and OXTO’s solution is the only 100 per cent ‘clean’ storage solution.
Why doesn’t the public hear more about this type of energy storage?
Partly it’s about perception. People assume storing renewable energy in batteries is clean and green technology – they’re more interested in the generation phase than the storage phase. But some batteries aren’t actually that clean if you consider their entire life cycle. Our battery uses only steel, so it is fully recyclable and has minimal environmental impact.
What other advantages does FES have?
There’s no degradation: 20 years later it would still work as well as the day you bought it while it can charge and discharge extremely fast and respond within a fraction of a second. There’s also no risk of fire from charging too fast because flywheel batteries don’t get too hot as opposed to other chemical-based technologies.
Given all those advantages, why has this technology not been developed sooner?
Well, there have been advances in flywheel technology in recent years. But the biggest issue is the physics: the concept is that you have a spinning mass, and the heavier it is and the faster it goes, the more energy you can store. To make something both heavy and fast, you have some restrictions on materials. Material technology is catching up, but as recently as a couple of years ago, the materials we needed for our battery were too expensive. You also need complex electronics on the processing side and, until recently, the electronics weren’t advanced enough to handle the immense processing power required to control this sort of FES device efficiently. Now, with modern technology and modern materials, we have managed to come up with a system that is low-cost, robust and efficient.
You’re headquarted in London and have an office in New York. Why are you now looking at Australia?
Australia has a relatively established framework for renewable grid-based applications, and law-wise it’s very similar to the UK, where we have expertise. Also, Australia’s grid is one of the biggest and most complex in the world due to the size of the country and your population densities. We believe our system can significantly help Australia improve the performance of its grid, meet renewable-energy targets and avoid blackouts as renewable energy – particularly solar – becomes a larger part of the energy mix.