Decarbonizing American industry in order to reach our Paris Agreement targets and save humanity has seemed like an impossible mission thus far. The high heat necessary to produce materials like steel, cement, paper, aluminum, plastics, chemicals, etc, which require temperatures above 1000ºC, (steel melts at 1500ºC), haven’t been achievable at a scalable cost. This is an alarming reality considering American industry must eliminate 8 gigatons of carbon (GtC) per year. That’s 8 billion tons of carbon per year by 2050, and 4 GtC by 2030. The steel industry on its own must cut 3 of the 8 GtC, and the cement industry, 2 of the 8 GtC.
Some of the most brilliant minds in the world have been stymied by the endless, insurmountable obstacles that have confronted those in search for a solution to this predicament. Research, testing and more testing, more research, more testing. In 2020, global fossil fuel subsidies were a staggering $5.9 trillion, which has kept the cost of oil, coal and gas artificially low. Meanwhile, the slow adoption of clean energy, and meager subsidies, have kept the prices of renewables artificially high. This bizarre incongruity has made clean energy 5x more expensive than dirty fossil fuel energy at industrial sites.
News broke on February 16, 2022 that Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) along with Chris Sacca’s Lowcarbon Capital and Shell’s venture capital arm committed to invest a total of $50 million in Antora Energy’s innovative tech solution for low cost clean energy storage in thermal batteries, to replace low cost high carbon emitting natural gas boilers that are currently used to produce industry materials that require extreme high heat. Antora’s thermal batteries are zero-carbon.
Antora Energy’s CEO Andrew Ponec shared his exciting vision for the future in a Medium article that outlined Antora’s discovery and purpose. “For the first time in history, zero-carbon power from solar and wind is now cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the world and the trend is now accelerating on every continent.” Ponec explained that the transition to renewables has begun accelerating at an astonishing rate.
Such a hope-inspiring statement. Climate scientists must be heaving a collective sigh of relief. But will investors and portfolio managers be able to respond at the same rapid pace?
Antora Energy’s Solution
Antora Energy has “developed a thermal energy storage system capable of turning sunshine and wind into reliable heat and power for heavy industry — cheaper than fossil fuels,” stated Ponec. “Just like fossil fuels, we can create the extreme temperatures needed to generate electricity and supply high-temperature heat to manufacturing processes, and we can do it for cheap. But there’s one key difference: We do it with zero emissions.”
Antora had to overcome two significant barriers:
1. Material. What material was Antora able to find that could meet the requirements of durability, cost, performance, and scalability to store thermal energy.
2. Heat Recovery. How was Antora able to turn the stored heat back into useful energy for its customers.
The winning material proved to be carbon itself. Ponec exuded his enthusiasm in his explanation. “Carbon is an extraordinary material. It is available at extremely low cost, it’s virtually unlimited on earth, it has a massive existing supply chain and a long history of widespread industrial use, and it has superlative physical properties. The more we understood about carbon, the more it blew our minds.”
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- Solid carbon blocks for storage are “derived from a solid carbon feedstock that is a waste byproduct of other industrial processes and one of the cheapest materials on earth.”
- 30 million tons of carbon blocks are produced each year in the metal industry, which is more than enough to generate terawatt-hours per year of energy storage capacity.
- Solid carbon has no toxins, nor does it create environmental justice conflicts, and it has no supply chain limitations.
Antora Energy’s CEO, Andrew Ponec inspires enthusiasm and hope that we will succeed at staying below 1.5ºC. His views are not the ones we usually see on social media. He explained that when he and the co-founders (Justin Briggs and David Bierman) began this journey, they were looking to find a way to create a solution that would generate massive greenhouse gas reduction in an area that not many people were working on. They landed on heavy industries that use significant power and heat. “There is a rising movement of engineers, business leaders, policy makers, financiers, and others dedicated to stopping climate change for the future of humanity. In just the past year we’ve seen a marked shift in the momentum behind climate solutions. People are coming together with new hope and new passion for the teams and technologies that will decarbonize our energy system while expanding its benefits to everyone.”
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