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Q&A: The breakthrough energy tech that could replace batteries forever

Manas Pathak's insights offer a glimpse into the future of energy storage and the innovations that companies like Earthen are bringing to the table. Photo via earthen.energy

In the rapidly evolving world of energy technology, few innovations hold as much promise as the solutions being developed by Earthen.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Manas Pathak, the CEO and co-founder of Earthen, to delve into the company's groundbreaking thermo-mechanical energy storage system. In this Q&A, we explore the core of Earthen's technology, its potential impact on the energy sector, and what the future holds.

Manas Pathak's insights offer a glimpse into the future of energy storage and the innovations that companies like Earthen are bringing to the table. As the energy sector continues to evolve, solutions like these will play a pivotal role in shaping a sustainable future.

Energy Tech Startups: Can you explain the unique approach Earthen takes with its thermo-mechanical energy storage using supercritical CO2?

ManasPathak: Certainly. At Earthen, we've developed a thermo-mechanical energy storage solution that leverages supercritical CO2. This phase of CO2, achieved at high pressures and temperatures, behaves both as a liquid and a gas. It's central to our technology, offering a compact, safe, and cost-effective solution for long-duration energy storage. Think of it as a modern take on compressed air storage but using CO2 for superior results.

Q: With so many energy storage solutions emerging, what sets Earthen's system apart in terms of efficiency?

MP: Our system boasts a competitive round-trip efficiency of 78%, which is quite remarkable. To put it in perspective, this efficiency rivals that of lithium-ion batteries. The use of supercritical CO2 is central to achieving this efficiency, allowing us to harness its unique properties for optimal energy storage and retrieval.

Q: How does Earthen's technology integrate with existing infrastructure, like pipelines?

MP: One of the exciting applications of our technology is its ability to retrofit pipelines, converting them into energy storage assets. This means that existing infrastructure, like pipelines initially designed for other purposes, can be repurposed and utilized for energy storage, maximizing the use of resources and reducing the need for new constructions.

Q: What are Earthen's plans for the future, especially in terms of product launches and market presence?

MP: We're quite ambitious about our roadmap. We aim to launch our first commercial product by 2026-2027. As for our market strategy, we're targeting a diverse range of customer segments, from utility-scale energy storage to commercial-industrial spaces. Our mission is to democratize access to clean energy on a global scale, and we're taking concrete steps to realize that vision.

Q: Lastly, what inspired the creation of Earthen and its focus on equitable energy distribution?

MP: Growing up in India, I witnessed firsthand the disparities in energy consumption. The smallest homes often faced the longest power outages. This early realization highlighted the need for equitable energy distribution. At Earthen, our end goal is to see clean electrons reaching every corner of the globe, ensuring that everyone has access to reliable and sustainable energy.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click here to listen to the full episode.

Hosted by Jason Ethier and Nada Ahmed, the Digital Wildcatters’ podcast, Energy Tech Startups, delves into Houston's pivotal role in the energy transition, spotlighting entrepreneurs and industry leaders shaping a low-carbon future. Digital Wildcatters is a Houston-based media platform and podcast network, which is home to the Energy Tech Startups podcast.

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A View From HETI

Standard Lithium retaining operatorship, while Equinor will support through its core competencies, like subsurface and project execution capabilities. Photo via Equinor.com

A Norwegian international energy company has entered into a deal to take a 45-percent share in two lithium project companies in Southwest Arkansas and East Texas.

Equinor, which has its U.S. headquarters in Houston, has reached an agreement with Vancouver, Canada-based Standard Lithium Ltd. to make the acquisition. Standard Lithium retaining operatorship, while Equinor will support through its core competencies, like subsurface and project execution capabilities.

“Sustainably produced lithium can be an enabler in the energy transition, and we believe it can become an attractive business. This investment is an option with limited upfront financial commitment. We can utilise core technologies from oil and gas in a complementary partnership to mature these projects towards a possible final investment decision,” says Morten Halleraker, senior vice president for New Business and Investments in Technology, Digital and Innovation at Equinor, in a news release.

Standard Lithium retains the other 55 percent of the projects. Per the deal, will pay $30 million in past costs net to the acquired interest. The company also agreed to carry Standard Lithium's capex of $33 million "to progress the assets towards a possible final investment decision," per the release. Additionally, Equinor will make milestone payments of up to $70 million in aggregate to Standard Lithium should a final investment decision be taken.

Lithium is regarded as important to the energy transition due to its use in battery storage, including in electric vehicles. Direct Lithium Extraction, or DLE, produces the mineral from subsurface reservoirs. New technologies have the potential to improve this production method while lowering the environmental footprint.

Earlier this month, Houston-based International Battery Metals, whose technology offers an eco-friendly way to extract lithium compounds from brine, announced that it's installing what it’s billing as the world’s first commercial modular direct-lithium extraction plant located at US Magnesium’s operations outside Salt Lake City. The plant is expected to go online later this year.

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