Photoncycle aims for low-cost energy storage with a smart hydrogen solution | Tech Crunch

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For years, the solar energy sector has grappled with interseasonal energy storage. The ability to harness the summer months' surplus solar energy for winter use remains an elusive goal, with current solutions such as batteries falling short due to prohibitive costs and limited lifetimes. 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 in an ammonia synthesis reactor. This tech makes storage more cost-effective than any battery or liquid hydrogen solutions on the market.

A schematic of how PhotonCycle envisions its complete system when installed at home. Image Credits: Photocycle

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

A photoncycle uses water and electricity to produce hydrogen. That's not unusual if you're following fuel cell vehicle technology. However, the company's approach has an innovative twist: the reversible high-temperature fuel cell. This advanced fuel cell can produce hydrogen and produce electricity in the same unit.

The core of the discovery of the photoncycle lies in the treatment of hydrogen. They process hydrogen and use its technology to convert and store it in solid form. The company claims that this storage method is not only safe but highly effective due to the flammable and non-explosive nature of the solid state. This enables hydrogen storage at a concentration approximately 50% higher than liquid hydrogen, demonstrating a significant advance in hydrogen storage solutions. These innovations will facilitate safe and dense hydrogen storage, a cornerstone of the PhotoCycle system, which the company says is a huge step forward in energy technology.

Current clean energy solutions such as rooftop solar power are limited by erratic supply due to the unpredictable nature of weather conditions. A robust, renewable energy storage solution can mitigate these times, ensuring a steady supply of energy when these renewable sources experience inevitable periods of intermittency.

Great in theory, but not without its own challenges.

“The Netherlands is the country in Europe with the highest concentration of rooftop solar. We're seeing a huge ramp up now because of high energy prices; everyone wants solar on the roof,” Brandtzag said. However, he adds that this approach can backfire on homeowners: “Last year in July, in the Netherlands, in the middle of the day, You pay €500 per megawatt hour to export your electricity.”

Placing energy storage alongside the home that generates electricity allows homes to go off the grid. PhotonCycle says the main components of its solution have been tested and worked out – the next step is to integrate it into the system. If successful, Tesla's lithium-ion battery solution could seriously challenge the Powerwall, the company said.

David Gerez, CTO at PhotonCycle, and Ole Lagerud, PhotonCycle Chemist, in PhotonCycle's purpose-built lab, which has been operating for nearly two years. Image Credits: Photocycle

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

Brandtzog's confidence in the operational framework of the concept was compelling. He gestured to a small mock-up of their operations plant in their labs, scaled down to the size of a car battery. Brandtzaeg believes this scaling should be problem-free, which is the primary reason they feel confident moving forward with the project.

When it comes to power delivery, hydrogen takes some time to generate electricity, so while it's spooling up, the company relies on an intermediary, more traditional, battery for load balancing. The company certainly has investors' attention: Photocycle It raised $5.3 million (€5 million) to build its first few power storage devices in Denmark, which PhotonCycle chose as its test market.

“We could raise 10 times what we did based on interest. But after this raise, I'm still the majority owner,” Brandtzag said. “I wanted to maintain control of the business as long as possible and not raise more capital than was necessary to bring this service to market.”

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