Backed By Gates And Thiel, Danielle Fong’s Lightsail Sets To Revolutionize Energy Storage

Backed By Gates And Thiel, Danielle Fong’s Lightsail Sets To Revolutionize Energy Storage

Twenty-seven-year old Danielle Fong has big plans. Fong graduated from Dalhousie University with a degree in physics/computer science in 2005 at age 18, and started a PhD. program at Princeton’s Plasma Physics Lab in August of that year. After a couple of years in grad school, Fong realized that fusion power was still at least several years away and she wanted to do something to help the world’s energy problems right now.

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The founding of Lightsail Energy

Fong left grad school and struggled to find herself and the right idea to make a difference for several months until the summer of 2008, when she hit upon the idea of compressed air energy technology. She threw herself into research on the subject, and had founded her company — Lightsail Energy — by the end of 2008. Lightsail got its first major funding in July of 2009, and Fong and colleagues had a functional prototype of her compressed air energy storage device by September of 2010.

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Danielle Fong and Lightsail present prototype to Bill Gates in 2011

Lightsail Energy reported that as of July 2011, all technical goals for prototype had been met. The next phase of the project was funding/market research, technical development and laying the ground work for product scale up.

When the word about Lightsail started to get out, even Bill Gates got interested and invested in the firm. He came to the company’s facility in Berkeley to take a look at the near-final prototype in May of 2011.

Backers of Fong’s start up include Bill Gates, French Energy giant Total, and the provincial government of Nova Scotia.

Partnerships and product development

Lightsail’s technology will receive its first real-world test at the former Bowater Mersey mill site in Brooklyn, Queens County, Nova Scotia, where ReNova Scotia Bioenergy Inc. will soon be building three wind turbines.

The former mill is also home to another clean energy business, CelluFuel Inc., which turns low cost wood fiber into renewable diesel fuel.

Danielle Fong’s Berkeley, Calif., company LightSail Energy will work with a Dartmouth-based firm to prove her compressed air energy storage technology over the next couple of decades.

Moreover, the power produced by the project will be fed into Nova Scotia Power’s grid.

“It works in the lab but we haven’t shown it to work in the field in an environment where cold weather occurs and we haven’t shown it to work where we’re harnessing the power of waste heat energy from woodchips or any other industrial source,” Fong said. “This will be a world first.”

The new compressed air energy storage system is anticipated to begin operations in early 2016.

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  1. Yes Ms. Fong, my question is humble and direct, specific in fact to your comment I saw some time ago about “secret” stratagy…..

    When scaling storage to reduce the cost isn’t that hard not to do? The atmosphere is very heavy, and will press out air to some extent from any bladder, even our air layer, but why you would put a tank above the bottom of the ocean is unlcear, but regardless carbon fiber is not very rigid if cost engineered so only one stage of compression obviously (to me if speculation and instinct are what obviousness is) is optimal, and increasing the surface area per tank not just reducing it per gallon seems like the way to go.

    The value of displacing deep ocean water from the bottom up is very great- it is not just methane that is solid down there but other compounds perhaps even at the ambient temp down there.

    When I read you needed fiber engineers I knew that could mean mobility, but have since figured out the lighter weight etc. could mean ‘height’ but again when putting dollars into tanks lowering them to the bottom of the ocean as you fill them is teh way to reduce teh strain/stretch on there walls right?

    Also a collapsible tank could be inserted into a very deep oil hole to maximise it’s pressure exerior to it by inflating it below as much as possible of the heavy earth?

    Despite your title it seems like yoiu have nobody to bounce the science off. I imagine you have scenes on your TIVO from imagined encounters with Newton etc.

    Since you are the chief, how man other science officer’s are there in your company?

    I respect you ambition, but the years since we ‘met’ are ticking by as fast as you implore us to recognize and your old fashioned show your stuff first stratagy is quite an indulgence if not necessary.

    The facts you toss off as ‘error’ are hilarious and it seems that you would be better capitalized on a website for hard money meaning soft social goals even if you have to create that site yourself.

    Few investors will lack conflicts of interest regardless of your growth potential if you continue to seek funding from other then the poorest on the planet.

    Your use of high speed if not high pressures puzzles me- I know you want to see the calculations to back that up…

    but if scale is real then if multiple stages are even an issue the first should be accordian like just gathering the wind or whatever to keep vacuums from building up in front of the inlet to teh second ‘stage’

    Thinking organically means that the pipe to move the air down to the bottom of the oil reservoir or whereve you decide making a void is feasible under the ocean can itself be engineered to store energy by displacing water as it expands to operational containment pressures.

    At higher pressures the weight of the air migh tbecome helpful, or some regulation in the other direction as it flows down could complicate a design.

    Surely there are land masses with water underneath to keep the tank and it’s feeding pipe from surfacing.

    It seems like staging the compression as the air moves down into the core of our planets gravitational field would work. Also multiple layers of tank, similar in picturing say to dual tube bike tires now available, might make sense.

    Tanks within tanks…. lol.

    That seems to rock.. new idea for me.

    I have always known you rejected caves as being too few and far between.

    But the ocean can be simulated just by putting a tank around a tank and then in 360 degrees.

    Before air becomes relatively uncompressible you seem to be saying the strong forces join in the spring action even more, maximising storage per molecule beyond linerally? That would be so neat!

    I am lacking analogy…. before boilign water….in reverse….

    wow I feel like I need to think about this more, dammit.

    Ok an analogy- those absolute zero lab benches….

    the stacks of colder upon colder

    FOr everyone else- F=MA

    The walls of the tank… strain as more pressure is put in- but teh molecules stored in the tank, how does the distance between them accelerate or not in being closed as pressure is increased?

    To store energy you want to increase the force to the highest possible, then maintain that force across distance, or in volume stored.

    So you would want to reach a pressure that did not go up too fast as you put more air in, but did not reject more air by reaching some pressure below liquification/uncompressability…

    The sweetspot is at such a point

    Where mere mechanical work, in and out, both, can meet the atomic forces without having to disrupt the material destructively, the air.

    So you reach this insane high pressure for the volume stored, and then you can put twice as much air in without it jamming.

    What does mathematica say is that pressure? Not 200 bars? If so you have not included any cost engineering to speak of I bet.

    I fear you are spending years optimising an unimportant part of the system.

    I did that when I was a teenager, or had to manage adults who did, myself.

    I see you as saying- “we want to import mechanical energy from where it is so plentiful it can be had for free”.

    Except you spend time trying to finesse converting it to/back-to electrical energy!

    Electrical energy is useful for computation, maybe lighting, and few other things.

    It has no role in doing mechanical work like mobility, mining, etc.

    If you can store mechanical energy what use do we have for hydrogen? Duh?


    Earlier today I misspoke when I said “Ferris” I meant “Merry Go ROund” I think….

  2. even if this 5 year old project weren’t a crock, and it very much is, energy prices have come down dramatically.

    compressed air was NEVER going to be the solution to energy storage. people had done the thermodynamics on this stuff over a hundred years ago. venture capitalists don’t like doing basic research into the history of engineering and the basic physics of the thermodynamic cycles in an engine as part of their investing homework.
    there is nothing new about this thermodynamic cycle , introducing steam to compressed air not new either. if the method of doing so is new, it is never explained, but it is irrelevat because a new method for mixing steam into hot air does not take 5 years to disclose, let alone perfect. nothing new has even been disclosed.

    some basic college engineering and a few days of homework would have saved khosla many many millions of dollars.

    even if this were possible to do in a meaningful manner, energy prices are coming down dramatically, and other competing bulk energy storage technologies will eventually take the stage if needed as needed.

  3. Google youtube videos on Tide Power & a design will show a way to Harness Power while allowing natural water exchange preventing damage to ecosystem by preserving natural filling & emptying of Bay,using flow of tide both in & out,preserving natural filling & evacuation of Sea Water,preserving the natural ecosystem.!

  4. There was actually an attempt to investigate the Bay of Fundy resource a several years ago by Alan Vowles at Wave Energy Technology. I see the company is no more. Not sure what happened after 2009.

  5. As far as the latter comment goes, it wouldn’t be the first time this has happened in the renewable energy systems technology industry. The latest example, Bloom Energy’s Bloom Boxes. Thanks to the 2013 State of Delaware Diamond State Generation Partners report and 18 months of AC Transit data, these SOFCs are underperforming, emitting more CO2 than touted, not performing all that much better than the grid –> greenwashing.

    Ja, I will defer rejecting this CAES technology until some in-the-field performance metrics are produced.

  6. Hello everyone, Danielle Fong (from the article) here.

    This is cross-posted at

    Thanks for the coverage and interest. This article slipped my notice, and it seems that there are some misconceptions I should clear up.

    1. Why is energy storage so important now?

    First, here’s the main point. The objective is to make solar and wind cheaper than power from fossil fuels, and available whenever it is needed. To do that, you need energy storage. Only since about 2004-2005 has it been broadly true that solar ad wind energy are cheaper sources than energy from oil. Now, economical energy storage is needed to make it available whenever people need it most.

    2. What’s new about our approach?

    Second, we know that Compressed air energy storage is not new!

    But we’ve made several significant improvements to the state of the art that significant reduce the cost and increase the efficiency, and we calculate that this allows us to make stored solar energy cheaper than power from diesel fuel. That’s a very big deal, if we can do it.

    Probably the most important advance is the reduction in cost. We’ve kept relatively quite about this, but we’ve developed the worlds lowest cost air tanks using composite technology. Though the fibers we purchase are more expensive than steel per pound, they are vastly stronger, and thus about 2-3x cheaper for the strength you get than steel. That’s an advance by our cofounder and CEO Steve Crane, and spearheaded by Dr. Neel Sirosh.

    We’ve also reduced the number of cylinders needed. Previously, to compressed and expand to and from 200 atmospheres of pressure, you’d need at least 5-6 compression stages, and 5-6 expansion stages, and 4-5 intercooler heat exchangers in between the compression stages, and 4-5 interheaters in between the expansion stages. That’s a lot of equipment.

    With our technology, we only need two compression stages, because we avoid many thermal problems by using water spray (more on that later).

    The same compression cylinder stages can be used for expansion — the compression cylinders are also used to expand the air. This is what we mean by reversible.

    3. What do we mean by “Our system is fully reversible.”

    This refers to slide 3 in our main page / technology page.

    To store energy, an electric motor drives an air compressor. To deliver energy, we reverse the process–the air compressor becomes an expander, and the electric motor becomes a generator.

    Heat from compression is stored or routed to nearby buildings, providing heating. During expansion, heat is extracted from storage, or buildings providing air conditioning. This dramatically increases building energy efficiency.”

    Unfortunately, it has been confusing to people that we use the term “Reversible” in this context. Sorry about that. There is a specific meaning for reversible in thermodynamics, but we thought people would know that is not what we meant, since a thermodynamically, perfectly reversible system is impossible. We thought it would be clear that what we meant is that we use the compression cylinders as expansion cylinders, and the electric motor as an electric generator — that’s what the animation shows (see here, on the “Our system is fully reversible” slide, click the arrows).
    Apparently, we have been confusing people! Sorry about that. Our mistake.

    4. We figured out how to increase the efficiency dramatically

    In previous attempts at compressed air energy storage, air got hot when you compressed it. Very hot. So hot that people had not figured out how to capture it practically. To store the air, they had to cool it, and they just rejected the heat to the atmosphere — turning it into waste heat.

    Hot air is at a higher pressure * volume, all else being equal. So you have to expend more energy compressing it. Rejecting the heat means that the air decreases in pressure * volume, and you get less energy out when expanding. This effect was responsible for more than 50% of all of the efficiency losses of previous compressed air energy storage systems.

    Our approach is:

    a. injecting a dense, cool water mist in during compression to cool the air, keeping the energy needed for compression low,
    b. holding onto the warm water in an insulated container,
    c. and injecting the warm water mist back into the air, keeping the air pressure higher longer and increasing the energy you get back out

    This has been very successfully demonstrated, and we’re getting better and better at it. Many people thought it was not practical (would break the compressor), or wouldn’t work (some thought the heat transfer would be too slow), but we’ve proven that it does. It’s still hard work ahead to optimize this and launch the product, but that’s the approach we’re using and it really works.

    5. There’s more information online!

    Lastly, there’s more information available.

    Our website: gives more details.

    This talk also should help.

    Also, there’s a lot of patents, though the material is pretty dense.

    I’m not going to go through all of the comments here, but if anyone has further questions they can ask me here in this thread or on twitter at @DanielleFong

    Danielle Fong, Cofounder and Chief Science Officer, LightSail Energy

  7. 1965-1969 Alvin Wienburg ran a Molten Salt Thorium based Nuclear Reactor at ORNL ( Oak Ridge National Laboritory) that can use spent fuel rods from current light water reactors that burn only 7% of the uranium.LFTR Reactors can burn 97% of the fuel & are Meltdown proof.!! A Molten Salt Reactor can also use the decommissioned Nuclear Warheads as Fuel !! China is building Molten Salt Reactors on assembly line scale.!

  8. 1965-1969 Alvin Wienburg ran a Molten Salt Thorium based Nuclear Reactor at ORNL ( Oak Ridge National Laboritory) that can use spent fuel rods from current light water reactors that burn only 7% of the uranium.LFTR Reactors can burn 97% of the fuel & are Meltdown proof.!! A Molten Salt Reactor can also use the decommissioned Nuclear Warheads as Fuel !!

  9. Yes, and there is nothing new in any of that, The DOE has had a fully functioning CAS generation plant up and running for over a decade now. Still no idea why this girl has anything worth funding.

  10. IIRC wind turbines supplies less than 5% of the power to the Grid so currently -the way things are now atleast —there is no need to store energy they created because they never generate enough excess power to store – but (in the future) if wind turbines supplied more than 20% of the electric power to the Grid – but wind farms occasionally could not keep up with Grid electricity demands (e.g. the wind is not blowing hard enough that day) THAT would require other on-demand electric-generators (like a natural gas generators or a coal burning electric generators) to have greater reserve power generation capacity than most electric power plant would be designed for to pick up the slack when these wind farms are *down* … Not doing so would put large regions of the Grid at risk of blackouts or brown outs. In addition – electricity *pumping* stations that distribute electricity across the Grid would have to be able to be flexible enough to divert huge wads of electricity to cover for the *down* wind farms. Complex isn’t it?

  11. @Sam Gilman: LightSail Tech is addressing an engineering challenge not changing accounting procedures. Wind and solar are not the same as coal because coal is a transportable energy source so extraction, storage and distribution of coal is a an separate operational cost. Wind and solar energy is not a transportable energy source AND do not have a separate extraction storage or distribution fuel operational cost like coal. BECAUSE Wind hydro-electric, geo thermal, and Solar energy sources are not transportable so the electrical generation plant has to be placed at the source of the energy -which is why their energy source extraction, storage, and distribution operational cost are low to essentially free. Functionally, the wind does not always blow when you need the electricity or does not blow strong enough to create the amount electricity when you need. Demand for electricity on the Grid vary and power is traded like a commodity in real time (aka Enron). One of the reasons, coal plants are still very useful is that they can be adjusted in real time so they only generate the electric power that is needed – Solar and Wind farm electrical outputs are not as flexible as electrical outputs from fossil fuel electric generator. LightSail Tech prototyping temporarily storing power from a wind turbine to provide some degree of variable on demand power to the National Electricity Grid which all electric utilities are connected to –

  12. Wind and solar are free in the same way coal sitting in the ground is free. You still have to pay for the means of extraction, conversion and distribution of electricity, and the maintenance thereof.

    You can of course, change the accounting rules to make something look free, but that’s ultimately an arbitrary decision.

  13. I think her wrinkle on compressed air is that she’s capturing and utilizing the heat energy created by compression with the water vapor. So you get the energy from expansion of the compressed air, plus the heat energy. Worth a try.

  14. Actually, I think it’s stored as a hot vapor, rather than hot water. At least, that’s what her website seems to suggest. I’d like to see their numbers – how much to build and maintain, and energy in / energy out.

  15. PRISM plants could, if they were to fission all the plutonium currently stored at Sellafield, meet all of the UK energy needs for the next 100 years Quoted from G.E. Website.

  16. I take this back. The explanation of the technology I read was inaccurate. This is not merely storing as compressed air.This is actually innovative and clever.

    Water is injected directly into the cylinder of the compressor which is run by an electric motor. This heats the water at the same time it lowers the power required to compress the air (normally the air gets hot and becomes harder to comress). The hot water is then stored in an insulated container and the compressed gas in another. ]Actually I see no reason they couldn’t store both in the same container since they will be at the same temperature, and that would increase efficiency of their design even further.] When power is to be extracted they reverse the process. The compressed air is feed into the cylinder of the comrpessor, hot water injected, this expands driving the electric motor as a generator.

    Not sure why the article just didn’t explain it.

  17. Lightsail stores the heat of compression as hot water. ( water spray ) They return this energy to the air when work is required. It works–does it scale?
    I read a lot of comments here from people who don’t have a clue. Somehow they learned how to type.

  18. Sir, I gladly accept your answer because it is logical The article IS vague, I I am betting purposefully so. (Investors and IP theft would be two reasons for it). Are the questions logical? Probably. But just as the argument is “This can’t work because of existing theory”, the defense would be “Interesting you discredit it without data”. As I said, I want to see numbers, and then, how is the device used? Sorry for the bad example, it’s late and I just returned from work, but it’s like in Star Trek. Mr. Scott’s transwarp being equation. Everything was correct, he assumed source and target were moving. No, change the perspective, make space the thing that moved. Maybe this young woman has had an “ah ha” moment, and we don’t know what it is yet. And maybe, it’s simply a way to do a red herring stock offering for some folks to get rich by taking money from stupid people.

  19. Hey Pro-T glad to see somebody else out there spreading the word about MSR and LFTR. It just sucks when some minor technology like compressed air gets the article. MSR should be basically all people are talking about – and the fact that your comments aren’t more popular means either that people are stupid or just unaware of the finer points of reactor configuration ;)

  20. I agree Edward, ferreting out her info is the way I would go about it too (if I really cared). But shame on the writer, Clayton Browne, for not providing sources and references that we skeptics could follow-up with (except basically non-related links to other stories on this website).

    You’re right: if the research seems to hold, and the white papers are all in their proper order, then it would be a simple matter to follow the science and experimentation back to the fundamentals.

    However, I think it was quite unnecessary to bring race into the discussion.

  21. Since the article is so “vague” as you say, then it is pure speculation to you and the others who have a similar opinion on the subject matter. This is a two way street. What I sense is a bunch of middle aged males who are a bit disturbed that a young female of Asian descent might one up them in regards to this technology. That said, this could also be nothing but “vaporware” too. But the way I would go about it is to research if Ms. Fong has any published, peer reviewed articles on this compressed air energy storage technology and if so, base my opinions on that instead of an article that was meant to be read by laymen. Makes sense?

  22. I would suggest that you do your own research on this subject. There are great articles about using compressed air for energy storage. You will find that compressed air is not cost effective or efficient enough to deploy. Sure the DOE is already funding compressed air projects, but this is more about demonstrating its capabilities, not its cost effectiveness. As far as the comments below, most of them are accurate with their position. Because this article is so vague, it only opens itself up to these logical questions.

  23. So, in other words, I should take your word for it. You know, a whole bunch of engineers also said steam trains would kill their passengers because they would go so fast as to prevent them from breathing. Data folks, not speculation or opinion. Data. Math doesn’t lie.

  24. Agree. Also, it is odd that she plans to prove her compressed air energy storage technology over the next couple of decades. I thought it was ready for prime time based on Bill Gate’s visit in 2011. I don’t need the specifics other than the target efficiency.

  25. Maybe if you understood the subject, then you would respect the opinions of those who have a firm grasp of physics; specifically, thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid dynamics. I would like to say that most engineers and scientists respect talent, but they don’t want to hear about how great somebody is before earning it. By the way, engineers don’t drink the koolaid like other majors. They will continue to question claims that defy reason or physics.

  26. The new technology here is poorly explained, in fact it is not explained at all. Energy storage by compressed air is hardly new, perhaps she does something revolutionary with it, if so it is unfortunate we are not told about it. Just don’t get me started on wind turbines.

  27. When was the last time Mother Nature sent you a bill for the wind (or solar) energy you captured? It’s free…100% free. Geothermal is also a free energy source.

    Go get yourself some free coal or natural gas sometime….if you can find it.

  28. It’s a good thing you figured how to make falling water produce power. We’ll be able to build mills all over the world to grind grain or operate factories. We can even build falling energy turbines at Niagara Falls to generate enormous amounts of electricity.

  29. @brianmacker: You have made an accounting-budgeting error – quick lesson: in accounting, we divide the cost of running a business into two types capital and operational cost. The *free* energy from the wind is an operational cost because the wind turbines generators don’t pay for for each joule of power from the wind as compared to a coal driven generator which would have to pay for each ton of coal it burns. The advantage of existing older coal based electric utilities is that their capital cost have already been paid for by the tax payers long ago (via rural/city electrification programs) so there is no big capital investment cost associated with them unlike new wind turbines When comparing the capital cost and operational of building new fossil fuel generators vs new wind turbine farms – new wind turbine farms look favorable if you look only at capital and operational cost – but like hydro electric dams wind turbine farms can only work in certain places. Worst yet, Wind farms have an operational limitation (which Fong is seeking to address) – the power from the standard wind turbine is not flexible like an on demand coal power plant so currently wind turbines have the overall effect of only lessen the amount of power that fossil and nuclear power plants must generate to keep the grid *up*. The question is whether Fong’s solution will be cheap, reliable, and generate enough power to worth the effort. I still think her idea hold merit for further investigation

  30. Geez, I didn’t realize all you engineers and Phd’s were commenting here. So many experts. Amazing we haven’t solved energy issues yet. All these folks with such brilliant comments.

  31. Energy from the wind is not “free”. That’s an extremely ignorant statement. If it’s free then why do environmentalists (and wind companys) have to lobby for subsidies? The answer is that not only isn’t it free but it actually costs more than other energy sources.

  32. Over the next few decades? I suppose that the crowdsourcing that made her a multimillionaire will have clued in by then. Remember the silent-but-rich solar roadways gang? That only took a few months, though.

  33. A Thorium Molten Salt Reactor using super heated Nitrogen with a Bray-ton Cycle Turbine is more efficient than a steam turbine pebble Bed Reactor & has been run at ORNL by Alvin Wienburg 1965-1969.

  34. What a load of Garbage, Compressed air storage has been in use for energy storage for 100 years. Aeromotor ( the windmill people) had a design in the 1920’s that used a windmill to make air pressure with then stored into tanks of high pressure air to run saws and other arm implements. General Motors had a regenerative air tank storage design in the 1950’s. I have a compressor that stores 200 psi in a set of tanks with the energy made from my wind turbines. It runs a table saw and will also run the air motor to spin a PMA to recharge my batteries.Thats been in use by us for 7 years.
    What a way to scam for a federal grant.

  35. A Molten Salt Reactor can load follow better than Light Water Reactors & are operated at only atmospheric pressure & are impossible to melt down.

  36. 1965-1969 Alvin Wienburg ran a Molten Salt Thorium based Nuclear Reactor at ORNL ( Oak Ridge National Laboritory) that can use spent fuel rods from current light water reactors that burn only 7% of the uranium.LFTR Reactors can burn 97% of the fuel & are Meltdown proof.!! A Molten Salt Reactor can also use the decommissioned Nuclear Warheads as Fuel !!

  37. A major problem of wind & Solar is the storage of excess capacity during low load conditions. The ability to store the energy by compressed air is a proven Technology used by salt dome storage of propane by Koch Petroleum in a plant in Medford,OK. that has been used for 25 years to store Millions of gallons of Liquid Propane for a Rail car loading.Why not compressed air ??

  38. Yeah, we didn’t really learn anything about the nature of the technology in the article. I wish we did. But, if it is what I think it is, CAS is nothing new. There already are few companies – albeit in limited scale – doing that sort of thing. Just look up on the You Tube. CAS has its place but it will depend on the nature and scope of applications.

  39. If the compressed air storage is what I think it is, then that scheme has its proper place as long as it is compressed with renewable sources of energy. If not, she is wasting time. This technology is already implemented – albeit in limited fashion – by a few companies. CAS is not spectacularly innovative, as it is one of many competing technologies, but it is useful in certain applications.

  40. Imagine a solar panel fab on the Moon.

    You would have a class 1,000,000 clean room the size of, well, the Moon.

    Open air (for imagery) CVD and PVD.

    Will the Moon-to Earth energy transmission inefficiency be a big issue?

    At least it’s a passable backdrop for a sci-fi novel.

  41. The weight of moving water stirs my wispy energy dreams. To think that water’s weight and movement could be captured over and over during it’s downhill course and the earth is covered with it. It’s always good to have a plan, to keep an idle mind busy.

  42. It takes a fair amount of energy to compress air. If she’s thinking about burning things to retrieve the necessary energy to compress the air she is on the wrong bus. It has not dawned upon her that we are nearing the end of the “Age of Fire”. As long as she is in Berkeley she ought to consult with Robert Godes at Brillouin Energy. Energy storage is advancing at break neck speed, what with the many flavors of Graphene technology.
    Also the number of 21st century approaches to harvesting energy from matter with recent advances in Condensed Matter Nuclear Sciuence are also coming to light at an ever increasing rate.

  43. Because LightSail compressed air storage (CAS) system is stationary – the weight and size of the CAS system isn’t a deal breaker like it would be if it were driving a car. Since the energy source -the wind — is essentially free and wasted if not captured – energy efficiency of the CAS system isn’t a deal breaker. However as weight and size increase – it becomes more difficult to find a place for it and if energy efficiency is not high then it may not store enough power or generate enough power to justify its cost. To work it has to be cheap and reliable..

  44. Wait your telling me that this is just using wind-mills to run run air compressers and then when you need the energy, you use the compressed air to run generators . . . Holy shit she needed a doctorate for that. Of course that type system is very wasteful with 50%+ of the energy being wasted as heat . . . which is why nobody does it . . .

  45. it sounds like LightSails Tech is taking mechanical energy from a wind turbine and storing on site as compressed Air and then releasing the energy stored on demand. Because the power generated from wind turbines is unpredictable – it is as useful as on demand electricity generated by fossil fuel or nuclear power. As an energy storage unit – compress air competes with electric batteries and hydro gen fuel cells. The advantage of compressed air is that it does not depend on rare earth elements or toxic chemicals. Compressed air is affected by the ambient temperature via the Ideal gas Law – and more importantly sealants used in the hydraulic seal are effected by extreme cold that could cause a prototype operational risk. For example, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion is based on O ring seals failing due to extream cold …. Still it sounds like Fong’s idea has merit because it can has the potential of being very affordable and sustainable– I wish her the best of luck .

  46. I read about the highview-power. I wonder if the process is efficient or cost-effective? Electricity goes in, gets converted into liquefied air, stored, converted back to gas and drives a turbine which generates electricity. It isn’t complicated, therefore “economics” tells me none of these ideas are cost effective, even with free waste heat added in. I would think every nuclear power plant would have these systems to store energy at off peak. A nuclear power plant can’t dial back it’s output quickly, there is free waste heat, there are no electrical transportation costs, and yet the systems don’t exist.

  47. I think your claims to efficiency being irrelevant is overblown. Yes the source energy may be highly abundant, but efficiency still matters because one must first collect that energy. And there is a cost to that process. Any inefficiencies on the back-end “storage” means more energy must be collected on the front end which increases cost on that front end.

    That is to say that, yes, for example, we could put up solar panels every where and have “abundant energy” available – but those solar panels aren’t free. In fact they are still highly expensive in comparison to the energy collected. A more efficient energy storage technology means less solar panels required means lower over all cost. A less efficient storage solution means more solar panels means greater cost.

    That fallacy is that the cost over the entire energy process must be accounted for. And inefficiencies in any link drives up the productivity required of ALL links in the process – and if ANY of those links is costly, well that will drive up the TOTAL cost according to THAT cost of that costly link.

    So you can’t just dismiss it with “…tolerable if proper conversion is met.” Um, yeah, but THAT’S the problem. That’s a very big IF that has yet to be surmounted. That fact that it has not, moots everything else you claim.

    As for fossil fuels, it’s not about “political pressure, vested interests, blah blah blah” it’s about the fundamental fact that fossil fuels are the huge low hanging fruit. Fossil fuels are still readily available within arms reach while nearly everything else still requires getting a tall ladder to get to the top of the tree. That is, it has nothing to do with “political pressure” or “vested interests” but the simple basic fact that people just simply don’t go get the ladder while there is still tons of fruit right there for the picking. If there were a lower hanging fruit than fossil fuels, “vested interests” wouldn’t count for crap.

  48. As far as I can tell, the purpose of the device is to store energy. From what I see on the website there are better and less expensive methods to store energy.

  49. More Pie In The Sky WASTE of Taxpayer money to fund a KLSTRFK high school lab project. Much easier, more efficient, less costly ways to accomplish the same thing………

  50. Find a better photo of her and you’ll see she’s not too bad. No beauty queen by any means but definitely hotter than your average geek chick.

  51. And you are a freaking saint who goes around calling people “internet trolls.” Why don’t you try practicing what you preach?

  52. I fail to see how any of this is different from the basic CAS technology that has been used for over 50 years now. I also find it ironic that proponents of CAS obsess about how to store the heat generated by compressing air. In warm climates, like California, it’s better to dump the heat and store the air without it, using the heat of tall buildings as the “fuel” to reheat it on hot summer days before using it to drive a turbine without its compressor stage and the 30% power drain that usually imposes.

    Imagine, instead of sucking on the grid, skyscrapers in LA could be naturally cooled by uncompressing air with their heat, and that heat energy would be used as fuel, in addition to natural gas, to power large turbine-powered generators providing power TO the grid just when it’s needed most.

    Can I patent common-sense?

  53. this story did not really get into the science behind the idea. What was the comment about burning wood chips? If the idea is to burn a fuel to compress the air then what is the point?

  54. Thorium reactors have been set on the back burner for far too long. I am no expert but it does seem to be the victim competing technologies from the well funded. These would also help clean up some of our radioactive waste problems.

  55. Sheesh…. Not to decry the enthusiasm of the young, to whom everything is new, but a second opinion is sometimes worth seeking. As for Clayton Brown, who wrote his – typical flack: headlines that sell papers or garner hits.

  56. Ultimately, the inherit inefficiency of a system is not really an issue. There is no shortage of energy available to us on this planet. For the purposes of the daily lives of human beings, there is more energy available to us than we could ever hope to actually use. Our issue, of course, is converting energy from sources that are abundant but inconvenient for use to sources that are adequate and convenient. As such, losses due to inefficiency are extremely tolerable if proper conversion is met.

    This is why, for instance, the argument against the extensive use of electricity to generate hydrogen fuel for use in automobiles is silly. If we were willing to get away from coal-fired electrical power plants, and focused instead on solar, or any other environmental source for power generation (hell, even nuclear), we’d find an overabundance of electrical energy for any use. Through solar alone, we can generate so much electricity that it matters very little how inefficient the storage system is. Of course, since coal is both cheap and easy to obtain, convincing people that we need to invest in more costly (but vastly more sustainable) options for power generation is difficult – not to mention the political pressure applied by companies and organizations with a vested interest in fossil fuels.

  57. Correct or not, you have the typical attitude of an internet troll… you could have made your statements without all the nasty snipes.

  58. Yes, I too have seen talk of compressed air ideas for a long long time. I have also looked into the thermodynamics issues as well. Yes, it is inherently thermodynamically inefficient. They claim to deal with the core inefficiency by “capturing” the heat loss (rejection) that results from compression of a gas (PV=nRT).

    Also part of the problem is that for it to be useful in any scale of interest, storage pressures of 3000-4500 psi would be required. That’s SCUBA tank levels. And anyone who has ever SCUBA dived would see immediately the inherent problems. It is a far more involved issue than your typical workshop air compressor (ie. nominally 120 PSI). Normal SCUBA tank pressures are 3000 PSI. To get to 4500 PSI requires exotic (ie expensive) composite tanks.

    By my computations, it would take a tank with a volume of 10 gallons compressed to 4500 PSI to make for a minimally “practical” vehicle in terms of speed and distance capabilities and minimal capacity (think SmartCar). And that is with favorable assumptions as to mechanical waste and inefficiency. And that is still nowhere near what is achievable with conventional vehicular battery technologies.

    The only way for such an approach to be useful that I could see would be to capture energy that is “renewable” ( eg. sunlight, geo thermal, etc.) or would otherwise be waste energy. But even then, it would probably be more effective to utilize some other means of capture and storage such as batteries or hydrolysis.

    As to the “reversible” claim, yeah, that seems rather disingenuous. It’s not any technological accomplishment but simply the physical properties of compression and expansion of a gas (again, PV=nRT). Compressing a gas rejects heat, expanding gas reabsorbs that heat (all other things being equal). Whether that rejection/absorption is to the surrounding environs or “captured” is mathematically (physically) irrelevant. That is, it is “reversible” as a matter of the math and physics of PV=nRT.

  59. She didn’t “find the right idea.” What she found was a really old idea. Here is a far better idea: Liquid air energy storage (LAES) has much lower volume requirements than compressed air energy storage (CAES). GE is investing in LAES. Just goes to show you that it’s not what you know, but who you know. Only rich fools would invest in CAES.

    Fusion power “was at least several years away”??? Really? More like decades, as always. Maybe she should go to work for Lockheed Martin on their preposterous “compact fusion reactor.” She would fit right in.

  60. I worked out a similar notion for a bicycle, and also one for a car… never worked on one for a land based system, but on a bit of consideration, I think this is a good place for geothermal energy to be used. With a pneumatic energy sump, as the temperature changes, so does the pressure, but this loss can be used. If they pump in the air through a heat sink and cool it significantly, and then use geothermal to heat it up, they’ll recoup the storage losses along the way. Otherwise, this system will be inefficient. This is also a good place for a low level Thorium based Pebble Bed Reactor, to heat that side of the sump.

  61. I don’t want to be a naysayer, but compressed air is not a new idea. I went to the lightsail website and it claims the process is reversible. I’m not an expert, but the laws of thermodynamics would prevent 100% efficiency in this supposedly perfect device. When you convert energy from electrical to mechanical to heat and back the process will be inherently inefficient. I’m thinking about the Carnot cycle, or Otto cycle or any other thermodynamic cycle developed 150 years ago.

  62. “Danielle Fong’s Berkeley, Calif., company LightSail Energy will work with a Dartmouth-based firm to prove her compressed air energy storage technology over the next couple of decades.”

    Danielle, if you read comments on articles, please read this. Don’t let them make you take decades to deploy your technology!

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