Backgrounder: Salty solution to energy storage


The problem

Climate change is a global problem that can’t be solved solely through local measures – carbon emissions from India and China are as much of a problem for Canada as they are for the countries where they originate. To address climate change effectively, strategies to reduce emissions on all fronts must be affordable and applicable in any country, including in the production of electricity.

While “pumped hydro” provides abundant clean energy for mountainous areas such as BC, there’s an urgent need to develop clean energy sources to reduce the use of fossil fuel-fired electricity production in provinces and countries lacking the mountains and rivers essential to the production of hydro-electricity.

Clean energy sources such as solar, wind and wave power offer much potential. But their intermittent nature requires storage solutions so that energy can be collected in periods when the sun shines and the wind blows, and stored for periods when they are not. Storing such energy in lead-acid batteries is costly, not viable for large-scale storage, and brings its own environmental risks.

The solution

Pani Energy has invented an energy storage technology that uses salt and water to store energy. Pani’s Osmotic Energy Storage (OES) technology holds the promise of a cheap, environmentally friendly and geographically unconstrained method for grid-scale energy storage, using nature’s fundamental process of osmosis.

OES works on the principle of creating a concentration difference to store energy, with the aid of a special membrane that essentially acts like a reservoir does for pumped hydro. When the sun is shining with surplus renewable energy, OES uses that energy to separate salt from water. When there is demand for electricity, the salt is mixed back with water to recover the stored energy.

Pani Energy launched in March 2017 to provide an energy-efficient method of desalination that uses up to 30 per cent less energy. Considering that 4.8 billion people around the world will be relying on desalinated water by 2050, technologies that reduce the intensive energy use of the desalination process are vital. Pani’s Adaptive Desalination technology is in the process of being patented and will be implemented in India in 2018.

That work then led Pani founder Devesh Bharadwaj to develop the OES technology, which uses similar principles of osmosis and the characteristics of separating and mixing salt and water to create a new way of storing energy.

UVic supports Bharadwaj’s work through the on-campus incubator Coast Capital Savings Innovation Centre, as well as through the involvement of Pani Vice President of Research Tom Fyles, professor emeritus in UVic’s Department of Chemistry; and advisor Henning Struchtrup, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

About Pani Energy

Pani Energy is a clean technology company based in Victoria, British Columbia. Its vision is to provide clean water and energy to the world through economical and scalable technologies that reduce emissions and costs. Its “Adaptive Desalination” technology can be implemented in both existing and new desalination plants.

About Coast Capital Savings Innovation Centre

CCSIC is UVic’s on-campus business incubator for emerging entrepreneurs at the university seeking resources to research and launch a new venture. The centre also supports those who are already in the early stages of launching a business venture and now looking to polish their business plans and find other investors.

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In this story

Keywords: clean energy, Pani Energy, Coast Capital Savings Innovation Centre, Mechanical Engineering, intermittent energy, osmosis, electricity, solar power, wind power, wave power

People: Devesh Bharadwaj

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