Bill Gates-Backed Antora Energy Taking On Fossil Fuels With Thermal Battery System

Antora Energy Inc., a startup supported by billionaire Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, has initiated its first commercial-scale thermal battery system in Fresno, California. The company aims to deliver its technology by 2025.

Distinct from lithium-ion batteries that store electrical power as chemical energy, Antora’s thermal battery preserves energy as heat within carbon blocks at temperatures surpassing 1,800°C. This energy can be released either directly as heat or converted back to electricity using thermophotovoltaic cells, akin to solar panel cells. This innovation could be transformative for industries like cement and steel manufacturing, which necessitate high heat and conventionally depend on fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.

While Antora is making moves with its thermal battery system, other startups in the space are targeting a different market. 

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Paleblue, for example, is an innovative company, also in the battery sector, that’s driven by a compelling mission to phase out the inefficient, single-use batteries that burden the environment. 

Its commitment to environmental consciousness goes beyond its product: Paleblue has secured a patent for its eco-conscious packaging, and it has five more utility and design patents in the pipeline. 

To date, the company has crowdfunded more than $700,000. Retail investors can invest in the battery startup for a limited time.

Antora: A One-Of-A-Kind Alternative

Antora’s dual function of dispensing energy as heat and electricity offers a zero-carbon alternative to the benefits of industrial combined heat and power (CHP), according to Jon Glass of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

This is significant as industries typically need consistent heat and power, often making them reliant on noncontinuous renewable sources. Decarbonizing these sectors is imperative as they might become the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the U.S. by 2030. Antora’s solution addresses these intermittency challenges.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures’ Christina Karapataki highlighted the essential need for a dependable supply of process heat for plants. She estimated the U.S. market for such plants to be around $60 billion annually. Potential clients span multiple sectors including chemicals, fuels, cement, steel, oil, gas refining and food and beverage.

The Antora Approach

Antora plans to initially approach potential clients in windy states where wind energy is cost-effective. Subsequently, it will target sunny states to store surplus solar energy. 

In the long run, CEO Andrew Ponec envisions Antora’s system outcompeting fossil fuels in terms of cost without subsidies. He believes that thermal batteries could potentially halve U.S. industrial heating power expenses, making electricity more competitively priced against natural gas.

As Antora progresses with its battery production facility in the Bay Area, expected to finish by 2024, the startup faces economic hurdles more than technological ones. Its business model is centered around installing equipment at client locations and selling the heat and power, which calls for substantial capital. If the company can solve any economic challenges in its way, it has the potential to change the energy industry forever. 

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