Weights can store energy. Researchers from Austria want to use the elevators in high-rise buildings to lift weights up, and the elevator can then generate electricity again when driving down into the basement.

Regenerative energy must be stored. In addition to the prevailing battery technology, there are other approaches, one of which is based on potential energy. When a weight is lifted, it “stores” the energy it took to lift it as potential energy. If you fall, it will be released again. In the mountains, the water from a lower lake can be pumped into a higher basin, and when it rushes down, turbines are driven to generate electricity.

A Swiss company has even developed special storage towers (Swiss towers store energy with concrete blocks). They use cranes to lift huge blocks of concrete, which generate energy again when they fall down via a cable system. A model is already working in Switzerland. Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna now want to convert existing buildings into storage systems. High-rise buildings and their elevator systems are designed to conserve energy. They have analyzed the height and location of high-rise buildings and believe that they are half-finished energy storage devices just waiting to be unlocked.

Existing elevators

Their Elevator Energy Storage System (LEST) is based on existing elevator systems in tall buildings. Many are already equipped with regenerative brakes that can capture energy during descent. Conventional elevators could be used in power generators with little effort. The capacity of an elevator system is used very unevenly throughout the day. There are two rush hours when the system works at the limit, followed by hours when only part of the capacity is required. The IIASA keeps an eye on these leisure hours in order to increase the productivity of the elevators. Instead of passengers, concrete blocks or containers with wet sand are to be transported from the basement to the top.

Space requirement on the upper floors

This can only work if the weights are transported back and forth by autonomous robots. This solution could then be easily adapted for different buildings. Even temporarily vacant rooms can be converted for storage purposes. The advantage lies in using existing technology and structures and thus achieving a cost advantage compared to a building to be erected specifically. This type of storage would also not have to be integrated into an overarching power grid, the building would only store electricity for its own use on site. The primary energy could be generated by solar panels. But of course there are also limitations and disadvantages of the idea. Unlike a specially erected energy tower, the capacity of the building is lower. The statics have to be taken into account here and, above all, the weights also need space, both in the basement and on the coveted top floors.

This vision becomes exciting when combined with wireless magnetic elevator systems such as Thysenkrupp’s Multi-Elevator. Not only would the efficiency be higher here than with traditional elevators. The cabins of the multi-elevator are not tied to a shaft. They can switch shafts and “overtake” each other. For example, cabins outside of rush hour could only carry weights without the human passengers even noticing.

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