Noon Energy is a battery startup co-founded by Chris Graves, a former NASA engineer who was once involved in researching how to extract oxygen from carbon dioxide on Mars as part of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover program. As he delved into that assignment, Graves realized the process could be tweaked to store clean energy very cheaply for longer periods of time than is possible with today’s lithium-ion batteries, according to Canary Media.
He assembled a team of ten people. Working together, they managed to scale up the technology from a laboratory prototype by a factor of 50 during the past 14 months. That accomplishment gives the company confidence the core technology will work at scale to provide reliable energy storage for the electrical grid.
With those promising results in hand, Noon Energy has recently raised $28 million in a Series A financing round. It had previously raised $3 million in seed money while remaining tight-lipped about the details of its technology. Clean Energy Ventures led the new round with Aramco Ventures’ Sustainability Fund. Other investors included Emerson Collective, At One Ventures, Mistletoe, and Doral Energy-Tech Ventures.
“The scientific risk is fully behind us,” Graves says. “It’s a very low cost and high energy density solution.” The company’s next big goal is to build demonstration projects to test the technology in the field. Using the new funds raised this week, he wants to triple headcount by hiring engineers, business development professionals, product developers, and HR staff.
This makes for a relatively new entrant into the increasingly well-funded field of long duration energy storage startups. They serve a market that doesn’t exactly exist yet, but which anticipates the needs of the grid as renewables deliver more and more of the electricity supply. Something needs to be able to take the bursts of clean power and make them available when they’re actually needed, Canary Media says.
The phrase “long duration energy storage” is a term that can mean different things to different people. Some entrepreneurs use it to describe new batteries that serve the exact same functions as lithium-ion batteries but without the proven track record or the ability to manufacture them at scale. Noon occupies a more rigorously defined space. It is building batteries that can deliver a desired amount of power for 100 hours or more.
That range, also called multi-day storage, would allow a Noon power plant to store clean energy and deliver it through a prolonged period without sun or wind. That would allow it to substitute for thermal generating stations and provide on-demand power that ramps up quickly when needed and can run for days.
Noon Energy Technology Explained
Long term energy storage is needed to address the intermittency issue with renewable energy. As a disgraced former president of the US liked to say to an adoring crowd of know-nothing sycophants, the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. The best thing to do, those people believe, is to just keep on pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere until most life on Earth becomes extinct, especially humans. Others like Chris Graves believe it is wiser to develop the systems today that will allow us to continue inhabiting the Earth without destroying it in the process.
Canary Media says Noon Energy’s technology will deliver a useful amount of capacity affordably for days on end without running out of power. The lithium-ion batteries used for grid storage today are unable to provide ultra long duration energy storage without becoming prohibitively expensive.
The leading contender for 100+ hour storage is the iron-air battery being developed by Form Energy, created by former Tesla storage executive Mateo Jaramillo. Form has raised $650 million in the last two years, entered into a utility contract for its first deployment, and is building a factory in the West Virginia steel town of Weirton. Form Energy has chosen iron as its key ingredient because it is cheap and abundant compared to conventional battery materials.
Noon also wanted cheap and abundant raw materials. It starts with carbon dioxide, which is then split using electricity into its components — carbon and oxygen. To discharge, it reverses the operation, oxidizing the powdery solid carbon. The active ingredients are so cheap that Noon pays more for the tanks to store them than it does for the materials themselves, Graves says. Energy Dome also has an energy storage system based on carbon dioxide.
Noon Energy has two attributes that few competitors can claim — high energy density and high round trip efficiency. Long duration technologies are usually less energy dense than lithium-ion batteries and need a lot of space, which makes them unsuitable for powering vehicles. Graves says his carbon-based storage technology is actually three times more energy dense than lithium-ion batteries. In theory, he says, it could one day power clean marine shipping or long distance trucking, two applications where even lithium-ion batteries don’t have enough energy density for the job.
Long duration storage technologies tend to lose more power than conventional batteries because of losses in the round trip conversion to storage and back. What the companies producing long term storage claim is that losing half the energy you put into the device doesn’t really matter if the bulk storage is cheap enough. Noon Energy differs from the rest of the pack in that it purports to have “near lithium-ion levels” of round trip efficiency. “We’re not in the camp of saying efficiency is not important,” Graves said.
The market for multi-day energy storage is quite small at the present time, but Chris Graves said it’s a matter of picking the right places where demand for long term storage is starting to materialize. “At the moment, the grid broadly is not asking for it,” he says. “Of course, the grid is not homogeneous, and some locations will need it sooner than others.”
Graves thinks his company’s long term energy storage technology will be a good fit for places like Hawaii, which has an abundance of rooftop solar installations and shut down its last coal-fired generating station plant last year. It is building a renewables-only grid without any gas to keep the lights on after dark. Early markets could include other islands as well as remote microgrids, where cheap renewables with long term storage can easily undercut expensive imported fossil fuels.
We know savvy CleanTechnica readers will want to know specifics on this technology and we have to say there are few available to share with you. So for the moment, this is future tech that may or may not ever scale up to commercial production. All we know at the moment is that several investors have ponied up some $60 million to keep the company afloat financially until a market for its products materializes — if it ever does. When we know more, you will know more.