IEC inks $8 million deal with company that uses air, water to store energy

Touted as a cost-competitive, sustainable alternative to lithium batteries, Augwind’s ‘air batteries’ can power turbines when needed

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

One of Augwind's polymer air batteries at Kibbutz Yahel in southern Israel, December 15, 2021. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)
One of Augwind's polymer air batteries at Kibbutz Yahel in southern Israel, December 15, 2021. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

An Israeli company that has developed a unique method of storing renewable energy using air and water announced Wednesday that it has signed an $8 million agreement in principle with the Israel Electricity Corporation to build the first facility of its kind in the world, in Dimona, southern Israel.

Augwind, short for augmented wind, has developed a closed, circular system that uses water to compress air. This in turn is stored underground in long, flexible, balloon-like tanks, and when the energy is needed, the air is released, pushing out water which in turn drives a turbine that creates electricity.

The Dimona facility will provide 40-megawatt hours of storage (enough to power a small town for a day). It will be built in 2023, subject to the signing of a detailed agreement with the IEC.

If all goes to plan, the IEC will commission additional Augwind storage in the future.

The company has now signed more than 200 mw/h of deals in Israel, including the agreement with the IEC, and reports intense interest from companies overseas.

Renewable energy will not be able to replace fossil fuels without facilities that can also store it for times when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

Most storage today is carried out with batteries. But these require the mining of finite resources such as lithium, cobalt and nickel, in processes that are highly polluting.

Lithium also gradually loses power, as anyone with a cellphone will know.

The brains behind the project, Dr. Or Yogev, told some 300 people gathered at Kibbutz Yahel, 45 minutes north of Eilat, that his modular, mechanical system can compete in price with any other storage system in the market, is environmentally clean and can be scaled up to store quantities of energy that today’s batteries cannot.

“It does not depend on scarce natural materials such as lithium and there are no problems of supply,” Yogev said.

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar (center) visits the Augwind site at Kibbutz Yahel in southern Israel on December 15, 2021. To the right: Dr. Or Yogev, Augwind’s founder and CEO. To the left, Augwind chairman Gabi Seligsohn. (Lovan Studio)

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, who visited the project Wednesday, said it would yet “change the world.”

Yogev, who was inspired to develop energy storage after vacationing in the US and seeing turbines standing inactive because there was no wind, moved to Kibbutz Yotvata in the south a decade ago to develop his idea and then to Kibbutz Yahel two years ago to build what he calls air batteries.

Augwinds air batteries being buried underground at Kibbutz Yahel in southern Israel. (Guy Shmueli)

One of Augwind’s breakthroughs was to replace expensive, above-ground, steel tanks for compressed air with flexible, balloon-like, polymer tanks that are encased in concrete and buried 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) underground. Farming and other activities can then continue as usual above them.

Augwind’s facility at Kibbutz Yahel in southern Israel, December 15, 2021. (Guy Shmueli)

The visit to Augwind kicked off the ninth Eilot-Eilat Renewable Energy Conference, most of which is taking place in the southern resort city of Eilat.

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