Designer of world's tallest building wants to turn skyscrapers into batteries

The architecture firm that designed the world’s tallest building is considering ways to build skyscrapers that can store energy using gravity. Skidmore Owings & Merrill has developed a series of prototype designs that use electric motors to elevate massive blocks, creating potential energy that can be converted into electricity when the blocks are lowered. 

The designs are based on technology developed by partner Energy Vault Holdings as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries and other types of chemical cells. They are seeking developer partners interested in offsetting greenhouse gas pollution from buildings, which the United Nations estimates are responsible for almost 40% of global emissions.

Building owners and designers have a growing number of tools to limit carbon emissions from day-to-day operations, from better insulation to heat pumps. However, there are no substitutes for steel and concrete that are critical components of modern buildings, both of which are major sources of carbon emissions. There are efforts to decarbonize those materials, but they remain far from reaching a meaningful scale. For building owners looking to zero out emissions, turning a skyscraper into a massive battery is one avenue, according to Bill Baker, a consulting partner at SOM.

SOM has created four storage system prototypes based on this concept. Three are standalone systems that use either heavy blocks or water, with two built into hillsides and a third that’s a tall, cylindrical tower. The last is intended for urban areas, a towering skyscraper that could include residential, retail and office spaces. Energy Vault’s Shanghai project is about 490 feet high, but SOM’s skyscraper batteries may be much higher, starting at 980 feet.

Tall buildings are SOM’s specialty. Baker was the lead designer for the Burj Khalifa, the 2,700-meter tower in Dubai that’s the world’s tallest building, and he sees significant potential for incorporating energy storage into skyscrapers. That’s because the higher the weights are lifted when there’s a surplus of cheap electricity, the more potential energy they will hold that can be released when electricity is needed.

“If I store it twice as high, twice the energy,” said Baker. “High is better.”

Once a building gets above about 660 feet, a gravity-storage system could supply more than enough power to cover its operations. That’s when building operators can start to offset the carbon footprint of construction materials, with some of SOM’s designs expected to see that payback in two to four years. “Gravity energy storage has a huge role to play in the economy of the future,” Semel said. “We want to get to work on some actual buildings.” You can read more here

This is a fascinating topic. Planning, permitting and financing for these kinds of developments take years but we will keep you updated on this exciting technology.   



Warm regards,

Stacey Froelich 

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