David Bidstrup guest post. S**t a 35 tonne brick!!!!!

Today’s Australian carried a report about the future “electrification” of mining and the steps being taken to identify ways of “reducing carbon emissions” by using electric mining equipment. In this report mention was made of a “new” way to store electricity and beat the intermittency of solar and wind power. As the article says, “modern mines run 24 hours a day irrespective of whether the sun shines or the wind blows”. So does the grid.

The technology mentioned was a system called “Energy vault” and anyone interested can look here for the details:

Imagine a tower crane on steroids that lifts and lowers 35 tonne “bricks” through a range of 100 or so metres. The theory is that when there is excess capacity in the “renewables” the cranes lift the bricks and make a tower, a bit like kids do with wooden blocks, and when the renewables fall over the cranes then lower blocks to the ground, recovering their potential energy and converting it into electrical energy in the same way that “pumped hydro” does with water.

Apparently this system beats all the others because it does not need water storages conveniently placed some elevation apart, and can be built anywhere.

There has been a prototype built in Switzerland and it is interesting to look at the video on the site above to get an appreciation of the complexity of the setup. In essence it comprises a steel lattice tower, like you see on building site cranes, and on top there are six “cranes” with trolleys that traverse a horizontal boom and pick up the “bricks”. Presumably the hoist motors are configured to run as generators on the downward journey and make the juice.

As mentioned, the “bricks” weight 35 tonnes each and a selling point is that they can be made on site using any mine waste and some cement.

My physics is a bit rusty so the following will probably be pretty rough, and I am sure that those who know better will correct any mistakes.

Consider that each “brick” can travel 100 metres vertically. When lowered the work that is converted to electricity is the force multiplied by the distance. The force is 35,000X9.81 Newtons and this produces 34,335,000 joules of energy. Using a lowering rate of 2 metres per second the “travel time” is 50 seconds so we get 686,700 watts each time one of the cranes lowers a brick.

The contraption has 6 cranes but they cannot all lower at the same time as there would be no power generated in the time it takes them to travel back up and grab another brick. Using a guess that a maximum of 4 cranes can be lowering at any one time the output is about 2.8 MW.

Any electricity generated needs to meet frequency and voltage requirements so there must be some control system that governs the descent speed so that the “hoist motor/generator” turns at the appropriate speed. My experience is that mines usually have a fixed demand and so any renewables would be sized to deliver that load, so overcapacity would be needed to operate the “storage” system.

The promotional blurb shows lots of wind turbines with an “Energy vault” situated among them; ready to take the “excess power” when it is available and then give it back when needed. I suspect that reality would be a bit different but I am a cynic when it comes to these new-fangled ideas. The best way to get electricity is to burn coal in large thermal power stations and the sooner the penny drops with the idiots that run the place and who hang their hats on “net zero emissions” and other clap trap the better.

Editor’s note. In your face Heath Robinson!

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56 Responses to David Bidstrup guest post. S**t a 35 tonne brick!!!!!

  1. Waz says:

    Actually a very clever idea IMO. The website states the operating parameters so we don’t need to rely on your crustry physics calcs (with which I’m impressed Rafe! as you were at least in the correct ballpark). The claimed parameters are;

    Operating Parameters
    – 35 ton composite bricks are lifted to create a tower; energy is stored in the elevation gain

    – Bricks are then returned to the ground and the kinetic energy generated from the falling brick is turned back into electricity

    – Specially engineered control software ensures the bricks are placed in exactly the right location each time

    – Modular and flexible with plant capability ranges of 20-35-80 MWh storage capacity and a 4-8MW of continuous power discharge for 8-16 hours

    – Ideally suited to long duration storage with very fast response times, The system may also be used to deliver short and medium-term ancillary services

  2. entropy says:

    the video shows them piled up, the drop would be less as the pile got bigger, so it would not generate was much.
    Also, I wish them luck on the clamping system.

  3. entropy says:

    on the other hand it would not cost near as much as the snowy 2.0 boondoggle.

  4. Karabar says:

    And the entire Rube Goldberg contraption is driven by what?
    The idiotic myth that CO2 is in any way shape or form related to teh weather.

  5. 132andBush says:

    Look at all those moving parts!

    A windy day would create havoc with block placement.

  6. Chris M says:

    Yes all the green ideas seem so exciting and plausible when described in a magazine. It’s only when you do the math and count the cost it all falls over.

    This scheme with heavy weights as stored energy is not new. Another version of mechanical battery is the flywheel, I want to see a 100 ton flywheel doing 30,000 revs break free from its vacuum housing and head off down the road… no green schemes ever work. Just build Nuclear reactors together with a mix of gas and coal fired turbines and be done with it all.

  7. a reader says:

    Sounds like a perpetual motion machine to me

  8. Eyrie says:

    1 Kilowatt-hour is 3.6 megajoules. 35000 kilograms at 100 meters is just under 10 Kilowatt-hours stored.
    So a 35 tonne weight and a 100 meter high tower with accessories (cranes, control systems etc) stores as much energy as a large Tesla home energy battery and about 1/10 that of a Tesla car battery pack. Uh -huh.
    OK make it ten 35 tonne weights = one Tesla car battery. Uh -huh.
    Need lots of 35 tonne bricks, sunshine.
    FMD, if only these renewable scammers would use their powers for good.

  9. Simple Simon says:

    a reader says:
    March 2, 2021 at 9:44 pm

    Sounds like a perpetual motion machine to me

    You beat me to it, a reader.
    I had the same thought about the so-called ‘Snowy 2.0’: Australia will shortly announce its world-beating discovery of the secret and practical application of perpetual motion.

  10. Pedro the Loafer says:

    Out in the real world out in the red dirt and spinifex they are pissing themselves laughing.

    Twiggy, Gina et al will be falling over each other to whack these thing up. Not.

  11. duncanm says:

    mmm its a mine.

    Usually have some spare, unused, deep holes lying about.

    Why build a tower?

  12. RobK says:

    I read of this type of scheme well over a decade ago iirc.
    From the linked webpage:

    When combined with low cost wind and PV solar, Energy Vault’s storage achieves an unprecedented levelized cost of energy delivered (LCOED) based on delivering consistent, full depth-of-discharge energy storage that does not degrade over the lifespan of the project.

    I suggest they brush up on nondestructive rope testing and cycling fatigue on steels.
    Cranes are devils of machines to run safety long term.
    Also:
    When combined with low cost wind and PV solar ….
    RE is driven by parasitic subsidies . It’s smoke and mirrors.

  13. Weeny says:

    Personally I don’t think their is a problem with 35 ton bricks. The problem is dropping them onto the right heads.

  14. IIRC, we had a bit of a competition in regard to stupid power generation/storage ideas.
    My contribution was six railway tracks of about ten kilometer length, running straight down a hill mountainside.
    Empty rail trucks would be filled with gravel – for building construction – and allowed to roll down the hill, braked by a cable connected to a generator.
    As the truck reached the bottom, it would dump the load of gravel and be pushed back up the hill by the weight of the full trucks behind it.
    I’ve patented the idea, youse guys, and so there will be no funny business or claim jumping. All inquiries as to engineering specs to be accompanied by Colesworth bags full of used $50 bills.

  15. Captain Katzenjammer says:

    Search for “weight driven clocks”.

    Energy calculation

  16. rickw says:

    Engineers were force to invent stuff like this when we didn’t have coal, crude oil based fuel and nuclear.

    All great fun until a cable snaps…

  17. RobK says:

    Following Eyries line of thought:
    35t block x 100m yields around 10kWh which retails at around $1-$3 or around 50cents wholesale.
    Sea containers weigh something like that of the blocks( mostly less) and the height of the lift at wharves is less than 100m (top of the stack?). Do the stevedores charge $0.5-$3 per lift? I don’t think so.

  18. RobK says:

    Another gravity storage scheme:
    https://heindl-energy.com/

    The fundamental principle is based on the hydraulic lifting of a large rock mass. Using electrical pumps, as already used today in pumped storage power plants, water is pumped beneath a movable rock piston, thereby lifting the rock mass. During times of insufficient generation of renewable power, the water which is under high pressure from the rock mass, is routed to a turbine, as in conventional hydroelectric plants, and generates electricity using a generator.

    It’s not the type of risk tax money should face..

  19. Rex Anger says:

    All inquiries as to engineering specs to be accompanied by Colesworth bags full of used $50 bills

    Non-sequential, of course…

    Would you accept Bits O’ Coin? It’s the latest cryptocurrency! All the cool kids are into it.

    And it’s really easy to make your fortune- All you need is a big hammer, a cold chisel and a pile of your favourite Gold Coins. The more Bits O’ Coin you have, the richer you are!

    I also take Colesworths bags of used, non-sequential $50 bills for investment advice and wealth-growing tips…

  20. bradd says:

    Imagine how many of these you would need to run a fleet of 300 tonne trucks hauling ore out of an open cut mine hundreds of meters deep.

  21. Waz says:

    South African mine shafts are up to 4kms deep and the winders and cables operate 24-7 for a number of years before the cables need replacing.
    But overall agree will never happen. Just thought it was clever in that it makes as much sense as Snowy II. Modern nuclear is the way to go.

  22. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare says:

    I suggest they brush up on nondestructive rope testing and cycling fatigue on steels.
    Cranes are devils of machines to run safety long term.

    Ropes and pulleys. Don’t tell me we haven’t in essence moved on from the engineering of Ancient Rome? This stuff is tech lunacy, and like kids playing with Meccano.

    Coal fired power. Go on. You know you want to.

  23. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare says:

    Love the comment about about finding the right heads to drop the killer load on.

  24. HD says:

    I don’t think the design/ product is quite sexy enough. There needs to be something to the effect of “space catapult” or “magnetic-levitating” involved and big fifty ton rubber bands/ the like clearly visible. It is simply nowhere near spectacular looking enough.

  25. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare says:

    Snowy 11 was the brainchild of Malcolm Turnbull whose claim to technological expertise was a lucky break with some telephone company shares.

  26. TBH says:

    I’m doing some consulting work for an iron ore miner at the moment and they have enough power problems as it is, without resorting to overly complicated and unreliable schemes such as this.

  27. RobK says:

    Waz,
    Each skip load is worth much more than the potential electricity generated.
    Also as you say, the rope wears in pretty short order. Mine shafts have designed failsafe features if the skip runs away.

  28. Nob says:

    a reader says:
    March 2, 2021 at 9:44 pm
    Sounds like a perpetual motion machine to me

    MMT
    Modern Mechanical Theory

  29. egg_ says:

    IIRC, we had a bit of a competition in regard to stupid power generation/storage ideas.
    My contribution was six railway tracks of about ten kilometer length, running straight down a hill mountainside.
    Empty rail trucks would be filled with gravel – for building construction – and allowed to roll down the hill, braked by a cable connected to a generator.
    As the truck reached the bottom, it would dump the load of gravel and be pushed back up the hill by the weight of the full trucks behind it.

    IIRC Rafe? posted a US hairbrained idea of using goods trains on an incline and regenerative braking as potential energy storage.

    Hitachi diesel electric mine haul trucks have a pentagraph and overhead cable system to do same on site but it’s not deployed in Oz AFAIK.

  30. mundi says:

    The website parameters are absolute lies, and are talking about a colossal fairy tale of a huge fleet of them. The math is very simple:

    E = mgh

    E= 35000kg * 9.8m/s/s * 100m = 34.3MJ = 9.5kWhours.

    You need 5 of them to match a tesla car battery.

    Are you really going to build a 100m tall tower to hold up 175 tonnes, for less than the price of a $60k car?

    lmao.

    This is like all the governments who fell for the “wave generator” scams.

  31. mundi says:

    There claim of 8MW for 16 hours requires…. 12,800 towers each at 35 tones 100m, lmao.

  32. Bazinga says:

    With nuclear backup installed. Better yet, just get a more elegant modular nuclear power plant.

  33. Mark A says:

    RobK says:
    March 2, 2021 at 10:01 pm

    I read of this type of scheme well over a decade ago iirc.

    Beat me to it RobK.
    So did I and it was dismissed then as a pipedream.

    I think the reason we read about this now is bc. journos are dim and lazy, and there so many of these crazy schemes about that he/she only came across this one lately and liked the idea.

    Build some nukes and more coal fired power stations.
    “We have the technology we can rebuild it. (him 6M $ man)” 😎

  34. Herodotus says:

    Posted in The Australian, you say? No surprise there any more.
    What this country needs is a conservative voice and a party to match.

  35. Lutz says:

    I’ve never understood the reasoning behind this CO2 problem. The carbon in coal WAS once in the atmosphere as CO2 and was sequestered by plants that then died. Burning carbon puts it back where it was in the first place. Just image how much more vibrant life must have been at the time when all this carbon was laid down by the plants.

  36. Tony Taylor says:

    Looks like a grouse science experiment for the class swat, but impractical in the long run since it is bound to be superceded by the time the class swat discovers girls and/or boys and/or power electronics.

  37. DavidH says:

    12,800 towers each at 35 tones

    There’s (many) more than 1 brick per tower. The website shows a veritable skyscraper of bricks with several cranes in the same construction. Each crane would drop 1 brick (in pairs, for balance, I’d expect), then go back for the next stacked brick, rinse and repeat.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fanboi of this scheme – I’m sure there are many practicalities and realities that will make this as successful as all the wavepower projects that have come and gone. Just saying the calculation of 12.8k tower cranes of 1 brick each is wrong. Also note that there’s a huge amount of pre-stored energy in their illustration. Power to pre-stack that many bricks has to be expended to start with.

  38. BlokeInAShed says:

    IIRC, we had a bit of a competition in regard to stupid power generation/storage ideas.
    My contribution was six railway tracks of about ten kilometer length, running straight down a hill mountainside.
    Empty rail trucks would be filled with gravel – for building construction – and allowed to roll down the hill, braked by a cable connected to a generator.
    As the truck reached the bottom, it would dump the load of gravel and be pushed back up the hill by the weight of the full trucks behind it.
    I’ve patented the idea, youse guys, and so there will be no funny business or claim jumping. All inquiries as to engineering specs to be accompanied by Colesworth bags full of used $50 bills.

    Winston
    The system you describe was used at the Denniston coal mine on the west coast
    of New Zealand from 1879 to 1967
    http://www.denniston.co.nz/history.aspx

  39. Botswana O'Hooligan says:

    A water tank on a high stand in every backyard with a downpipe of suitable diameter channels the water to drive an electric motor that generates household electricity AND pumps the water back into the tank is the answer, and of course the whole nine yards subsidised by the government beats the crane and cable method in that lubrication of cables etc. isn’t needed. One must always be cost conscious, even with perpetual motion schemes.

  40. Dr Faustus says:

    Imagine how many of these you would need to run a fleet of 300 tonne trucks hauling ore out of an open cut mine hundreds of meters deep.

    One can have a stab at it.

    A large Komatsu dump truck running on an electric trolley system draws about 3MW uphill. You might need 20-40 of them on the circuit.

    Lotsa bricks.

  41. Dr Faustus says:

    Someone will have to sit down and work out how one might control the regenerative braking feedback. In a closed system you would have the dirtiest power imaginable.

  42. IainC says:

    It’s a giant Grandfather Clock!

  43. old bloke says:

    Pedro the Loafer says:
    March 2, 2021 at 9:51 pm

    Twiggy, Gina et al will be falling over each other to whack these thing up. Not.

    Twiggy is investing in renewables to hydrogen at the moment, he believes he will save on diesel costs.

  44. old bloke says:

    Lutz says:
    March 3, 2021 at 7:44 am

    I’ve never understood the reasoning behind this CO2 problem. The carbon in coal WAS once in the atmosphere as CO2 and was sequestered by plants that then died. Burning carbon puts it back where it was in the first place.

    Quite so, there’s no such thing as man-made CO2, we’re simply releasing it to do what it should do.

    Isn’t recycling supposed to be a virtuous activity?

  45. Pedro the Loafer says:

    I know a chemical engineer who is working on hydrogen energy for one of the larger LNG companies.

    The tech is way beyond my limited understanding, but he says there are some real advancements in the field and the company is pouring huge wads of cash into the research in a bid to be first cab off the rank.

  46. egg_ says:

    Hitachi regen system
    Like most academic numpties, it’s already been thought of and implemented in Industry

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6x9Y5YElxk

  47. Kneel says:

    Hmmm… let me get this straight.

    The rock falls and generates electricity, which then charges a battery in a big dump truck, which hauls the ore up hill.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to use the big rock as a counter weight on a crane hauling the ore from bottom to top? If the rock was slightly heavier than the ore (and container for same), no power would be required to “lift” the ore, other than the potential energy of the big rock.

    This has the advantage that the losses associated with potential to mechanical to electric to chemical and thence to electric to mechanical to potential – all those conversions will be well less than 100% efficient – would be gone. Pretty much every joule you gained in potential energy would be recovered.

  48. egg_ says:

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to use the big rock as a counter weight on a crane hauling the ore from bottom to top?

    Oh for the days when numpties didn’t have web access.

  49. Aethelred says:

    So how much embodied carbon is there in 35 tons of concrete+ the steel needed to move them?

  50. CC says:

    Do the calculations allow for inefficiencies in the system?
    Please tell me they don’t assume 100%!

  51. Diogenes says:

    Empty rail trucks would be filled with gravel – for building construction – and allowed to roll down the hill, braked by a cable connected to a generator.

    Ah – The old self-acting incline as used at South Bulli and Corrimal Collieries , and the Denniston Incline in Unzud https://teara.govt.nz/en/video/7429/the-denniston-incline and many coal inclines on the Bowes Railway (and many others) in the UK

  52. Tony Taylor says:

    This is like all the governments who fell for the “wave generator” scams.

    That was my immediate thought, too.

  53. Paul Miskelly says:

    Great stuff Rafe!
    I think it’s time to pull out Gerard Hoffnung’s “The Bricklayer’s Lament:
    See, for example: https://monologues.co.uk/Sketches/Bricklayers_Story.htm
    35 tonne bricks, anyone?
    Don’t laugh too hard.

    Cheers,
    Paul Miskelly

  54. So I guess that stuffs up my patent process?
    *sob*

  55. PeterPetrum says:

    We must be getting close to peak stupidity, surely?

  56. Alasdair Fairbairn says:

    They are just overexcited funicular railways with a fetish about windmills.

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