Pahrump gravel mine will store energy using carts, rails, and a big hill

The new GravityLine facility will convert electric power to mechanical potential energy (ARES)

When most people think of energy storage, they probably think of a rechargeable battery: something that uses electricity to create a chemical reaction, which can later be reversed to power whatever it needs to.

That's far from the only way to store energy. Soon, a gravel mine located on the southern outskirts of Pahrump will be home to a new energy storage facility -- one that uses a method that seems crude, but may just hold the secret to widespread renewable energy storage.

The company creating the storage facility, ARES Nevada, calls the process "gravity-powered energy storage," saying that it converts "electric power to mechanical potential energy."

That's a fancy way of saying they're going to haul heavy things to the top of a big hill and drop them when they need power.

The basic idea has been known at least as far back as the early 1600s, when pendulum clocks used a system of wound-up weights to drive a pendulum back and forth to keep the time.

This new, more-modern use is part of a system that ARES calls "GravityLine." The company touts its simplicity as an advantage: It doesn't catch fire, it doesn't need water, it's cheap, and it works.

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“The first ARES GravityLine facility and future projects will create much-needed storage capabilities helping to avoid blackouts and shutdowns while keeping power prices affordable," said ARES CEO Howard Trott.

Using a fleet of 210 carts called "mass cars" on 10 rails, the storage system will use electric motors to haul the carts to the top of a hill. When the electricity is needed, the carts will be sent back downhill, with the electric motors acting as generators while they fall.

The mass cars weigh a combined total of 75,000 tons. ARES Nevada predicts that, when all the carts are uphill, the 50-megawatt facility will be able to provide "15 minutes of regulation services at full capacity."

On Thursday, the company broke ground on their first facility at the Gamebird Pit, a gravel mine owned by the Wulfenstein family.

“I’m pleased a portion of the mine our family has owned and operated since the late 80s can be reclaimed through a process that benefits the future of energy,” said Jim Wulfenstein. “Helping launch a new economic base for Pahrump and the surrounding community while mitigating a global problem, we look forward to working closely with ARES to develop this facility.”