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October 08, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Ensuring reliable energy is a priority for EarthEn

The start-up is building what it calls “flexible and future-proof long-duration thermo-mechanical energy storage technology” to address the problem.

Manas Pathak was born in a remote part of India where he saw firsthand the impact of less than reliable power.

“When electricity is not coming to your home, you are deprived,” he says, adding that it seemed that blackouts made the smallest homes appear to be the darkest. Later, as he traveled around the U.S. and the United Kingdom as a college intern majoring in geosciences, Pathak saw how reliable energy contributed to the economic well-being of individuals and communities.

Today, he and EarthEn, the start-up he co-founded with two other individuals, are participants in Cohort 7 of the “Innovation Crossroads” program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The focus is on using carbon dioxide-based technology to provide flexible energy storage for 24/7 power to not only increase grid resiliency but also to enable a fully renewable grid.

Pathak explains the challenge EarthEn is addressing with a simple question: “When the sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow, how do you power your home, factories and the city?” The answer is the start-up’s innovative technology that will store the excess solar and wind electricity and deliver it to everyone anywhere, anytime, for however long they need it at the lowest price.

Specifically, EarthEn is building what it calls “flexible and future-proof long-duration thermo-mechanical energy storage technology” that uses CO2 in a closed loop to store anywhere from four to more than 100 hours of energy at a low-cost, highly scalable and safe manner.

The start-up lists two products on its website. One is EarthEn Pods, which are focused on the problem outlined above. The other is EarthEn Edge, an artificial intelligence-based technology that will use real-time data to support the grid’s resiliency while ensuring that the company’s hardware solutions can communicate with each other.

Launched about two years ago, EarthEn has made good progress. It was recently selected for several other programs in addition to “Innovation Crossroads.” They include (1) Black & Veatch’s 12-week “IgniteX Climate Tech Accelerator” program, which provides funding and support to companies on the cutting edge of climate technology; (2) QBE’s “AcceliCITY Resilience Challenge” that is focused on addressing resiliency, equity, and sustainability in communities; (3) Rice Alliance’s 10-week “Clean Energy Accelerator” focused on transformative energy solutions; and (4) Cohort 12 of the Charlotte-based “Joules Accelerator” that also focuses on climate tech

Pathak describes participation in the “Innovation Crossroads” program as EarthEn’s “liftoff.” What does he hope to accomplish? There are four specific goals.

  • Refine the product with the CO2 loop at ORNL;
  • Be part of the emerging “battery belt” across the Tennessee Valley which Pathak describes as the next manufacturing and energy storage hub;
  • Secure further support from the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity (OE) which has already sponsored EarthEn’s participation in the program. It is worth noting that OE is a first-time supporter of an “Innovation Crossroads” participant; and
  • Build a relationship with the Tennessee Valley Authority which becomes a “major strategic customer” due to EarthEn’s energy storage focus.

How committed is Pathak? He told us that he left his wife, along with a four-year-old child and a six-week-old baby, in Phoenix. “That’s the kind of fire I have in my belly,” he says of EarthEn. “When it becomes harder, I will push more.”

That characterizes the early perceptions we have formed about this entrepreneur. After graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology with a B.S. degree in Applied Geology, Pathak earned an M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Utah and an MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Along the way, he spent five years with a major semiconductor company headquartered in Silicon Valley in several roles and three years before that with the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute.

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