Meet the next generation of air energy storage players

Bill Gates and Peter Thiel are funding it. Power companies are interested in it. Young bright minds are working on it. So what is it? That would be the next-generation of a technology called compressed air energy storage, which sucks up air, compresses it on demand, and stores it in tanks or underground caverns. When power is needed, the air is released.

The technology might sound like some boring power infrastructure system — and it is. Basically. But air energy storage technology could also enable grid storage cheaply enough to help the solve the problem of adding variable clean power to the grid. Solar and wind power can only be generated at certain times of the day. If wind farms and solar projects were coupled with cheap energy storage like compressed air tech, it could make them a lot more economical.

That’s one of the reason that entrepreneurs, investors and power companies are looking to develop the next generation of this “air battery” technology. While the idea behind compressed air energy storage has been around for years, a new crop of startups has been working on making the systems more efficient and lower cost. Here’s three startups and one consortium that are working on this next-gen tech:

Company Investors Tech Details Status
LightSail Energy Khosla Ventures, Peter Thiel, Bill Gates, Isothermal, with water mist as coolant. Tanks to store air. Working on 2nd gen prototype. Commercial in 2014.
SustainX DOE grant, RockPort Capital, Polaris Venture Partners, Angeli Parvi, Cadent Energy Partners, General Catalyst Partners, GE Energy Financial Services. Isothermal, with water mist as coolant. Tanks to store air. 40 kW project in West Lebanon, N.H. Next Summer a 2 MW project
General Compression US Renewables Group, ConocoPhillips, Duke Energy, Serious Change, and the Wellford Energy Group. Isothermal-like system using caverns for the storage. First utility-scale project under development in Texas with ConocoPhillips.

Adele A consortium which includes GE, utility RWE, contractor Z├╝blin, and the German Aerospace Center. Adiabatic technology, with the heat stored in concrete tanks. Air stored in caverns. Hopes to have a demon plant of 90 MW up and running in 2019.