Edinburgh-based energy start-up Gravitricity has unveiled plans to transform disused mine shafts into hi-tech green energy generation facilities through a system that uses gravity and massive weights.
The start-up firm has been awarded a £650,000 grant by the British Government agency Innovate UK to execute its plan to harness the power of gravity to create renewable energy.
Funding will be used to design and build the company’s 250kW concept demonstrator, ready for testing later this year.
During this year, the company will also develop the site and engineering designs for the full-scale prototype, planned for a UK mineshaft by 2020.
If the plan succeeds, former mining communities could find a new lease of life with the company’s new technology, which could also create jobs, as well as improve economic activity.
The technology uses a massive weight suspended in mine shafts to capture green power, and then release it in seconds.
The company noted that the project will be completed in collaboration with its international winch partner and with controls engineers Industrial Systems & Controls in Glasgow.
Currently, the company is seeking investors, including those who can bring mining experience to the team, and suitable shafts to trial the technology.
Gravitricity managing director Charlie Blair said: “As we rely more and more on renewable energy, there is an increasing need to find ways to store that energy, so we can produce quick bursts of power exactly when it is needed.
“So far there is a lot of focus on batteries, but our idea is quite different. Gravitricity uses a heavy weight, up to 2,000t, suspended in a deep shaft by cables attached to winches.
“When there is excess electricity, for example on a windy day, the weight is winched to the top of the shaft ready to generate power.
“This weight can then be released when required, in less than a second, and the winches become generators, producing either a large burst of electricity quickly, or releasing it more slowly depending on what is needed.
“It’s a simple case of ‘What goes up, must come down’.”
The company claims that unlike batteries, its new system can operate for decades without any degradation or reduction in performance.
According to Blair, the biggest single cost is the hole, and that is why the company is currently developing its technology using existing mine shafts both in the UK and South Africa.
The new technology will help reduce drilling costs, as well as allowing the company to use purpose-built shafts wherever they are required.