How many billionaires does it take to get a geothermal storage facility underway?
- Malta, a geothermal energy storage company, announced Wednesday it has received $26 million in venture capital funding, primarily from the clean energy investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures.
- Breakthrough Energy, whose investment portfolio is partly focused on battery and geothermal storage, has a long list of investors, including its board chairman and billionaire Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson and several other billionaires. Malta's other investors include Concord New Energy Group and Alfa Laval.
- In order to build a full molten salt storage facility, the newly-independent Malta — initially a project in Google parent company Alphabet's experimental research lab — will need additional funding, according to Bloomberg. Cost cuts and technology advancements in molten salt storage could improve the efficiency for a grid that's welcoming more and more intermittent generation resources.
Before spinning off into its own startup, the project's technology underwent a thorough evaluation and de-risking process during its incubation at X, Alphabet's Moonshot Factory for self-proclaimed "radical" experimental initiatives. Malta uses both high and low temperatures, storing electricity as heat in high temperature molten salt and cold in a low temperature antifreeze liquid.
The pools of molten salt and antifreeze can be sited anywhere, making it possible to pair with a large solar array, to release energy during peak evening hours when the sun is down. The storage system can also be applied to wind and fossil fuel generation.
"Malta's energy storage system is a different and promising approach from conventional batteries, using existing components and inexpensive resources to store energy as heat – and that makes the system cost-effective to scale," Breakthrough Energy investor and entrepreneur Carmichael Roberts said in a press statement.
Breakthrough Energy's tenets of investment, as Gates wrote in 2017, include investing in grid-scale storage and geothermal power. As Malta seeks to harness thermal energy for grid-scale storage purposes, it makes sense that the company caught the eye of the billionaire investment fund.
In addition, one of Breakthrough Energy's investors, Michael Idelchik, is listed as Malta's board chair and the acting technology officer.
Malta's first pilot system will help validate the industrial-grade machinery designed at the Alphabet lab, in collaboration with its industry partners. For instance, one of the investors, Alfa Laval, brings a "unique expertise within heat transfer technology, including design and production of heat exchangers," to Malta.
Follow Iulia Gheorghiu on Twitter