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Photoncycle uses a smart hydrogen solution to target low-cost energy storage.

For years, the solar energy sector has been dealing with the challenge of storing energy across different seasons. Harnessing surplus solar energy from the summer months for use during the winter has been a challenging objective. Current solutions, such as batteries, have proven to be costly and have limited lifespans. However, due to its inefficiency and high costs, hydrogen, despite its clean-burning properties, has received little attention.

Photoncycle, a startup that has recently emerged from an accelerator in Oslo Science Park in Oslo, Norway, has been diligently working on a solution. With a vision as radiant as the summer sun, the startup asserts that its solid hydrogen-based technology has the potential to enhance energy storage in an ammonia synthesis reactor. The startup claims that this technology offers more cost-effective storage compared to any existing battery or liquid hydrogen solution on the market.

“Lithium-ion batteries utilize expensive metals. Our material is incredibly affordable. To store 10,000 kilowatt-hours, it only costs around $1,500, making it an extremely cost-effective option. Furthermore, our storage solution boasts a density that is 20 times greater than that of a lithium-ion battery, and there is no loss of current,” states founder and CEO Bjørn Brandtzaeg in an interview with Eltrys. That means we have a system that allows for the containment of energy over time, enabling storage on a seasonal basis. It’s a whole new concept compared to traditional batteries. 

A photoncycle utilizes water and electricity to generate hydrogen. If you’ve been keeping up with fuel cell vehicle technology, that in itself isn’t unusual. However, the company’s approach includes a unique twist: a reversible, high-temperature fuel cell. This cutting-edge fuel cell has the remarkable ability to simultaneously produce hydrogen and generate electricity in a single unit. 

The innovation of Photoncycle lies in its unique approach to hydrogen treatment. They handle the hydrogen, using its technology to convert and store it in a solid form. The company asserts that this storage method is not only secure, thanks to the solid state’s non-flammable and non-explosive properties, but also extremely effective. This technology allows for hydrogen storage at densities that are approximately 50% higher than those of liquid hydrogen, which represents a notable breakthrough in the field of hydrogen storage solutions. These innovations are at the forefront of Photoncycle’s system, enabling secure and compact hydrogen storage, which the company believes is a significant advancement in energy technology.

Existing clean energy solutions, like rooftop solar power, face limitations due to the variability of weather conditions, resulting in an inconsistent supply. An effective, reusable energy storage solution could help address these timing issues, ensuring a consistent energy supply when renewable sources experience intermittent periods. 

It sounds good in theory, but it’s not without its own set of challenges.

The Netherlands has the highest density of rooftop solar in Europe. We are currently experiencing a significant increase in demand due to rising energy prices. There is a growing interest in installing solar panels on rooftops,” Brandtzaeg explains. He mentions, though, that this approach can have negative consequences for homeowners: “In July of last year, in the Netherlands, during daylight hours, homeowners had to pay €500 per megawatt hour to export their electricity.”

By strategically integrating energy storage with the power generation of a house, it enables homes to become self-sufficient and independent from the grid. Photoncycle has successfully tested and developed the key components of its solution. The next phase involves integrating these components into a complete system. If the company succeeds, it claims it can pose a significant challenge to Powerwall, Tesla’s lithium-ion battery solution.

This system is quite intricate, which is why we have a team of highly qualified individuals with expertise in various disciplines working on it. According to Brandtzaeg, the conversion of electricity to hydrogen and back results in a significant loss of energy. This is why Elon Musk referred to hydrogen as being impractical. He is confident that his company can transform this issue into a positive one. In a residential setting where the majority of energy needs are for heating, there is potential to utilize the excess heat to supply hot water. We will focus on markets where people rely on natural gas for heating. Our approach involves replacing the gas boiler in the house while utilizing the existing water-based infrastructure.

Brandtzaeg’s strong belief in the concept’s operational framework is quite convincing. He referred to a miniature replica of their operations facility, scaled down to the size of a car battery. Brandtzaeg is confident that this scaling should be problem-free, which is why they felt comfortable moving forward with the project. 

When it comes to power delivery, there is a brief delay before the hydrogen generates electricity. During this time, the company uses a conventional battery to balance the load. The firm has caught the interest of investors, as Photoncycle recently secured $5.3 million (€5 million) to develop its initial power storage devices in Denmark, selected as its test market. 

Given the interest, we could have raised significantly more than we did. However, even with this increase, I still maintain a majority ownership,” Brandtzaeg explains. “I aimed to maintain a firm grip on the business for as long as possible and avoid raising excessive capital beyond what is necessary to launch this service.” 

Juliet P.
Author: Juliet P.

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