Compressed air stored in underground caverns could answer the need for lower cost electrical energy, according to Sandia National Laboratory scientists. The scientists are examining the feasibility of using an aquifer site near Des Moines, IA, to power a plant able to generate up to 13,400 megawatts per hour with 50 hours of storage.

According to Sandia researcher Georgianne Peek, the compressed air energy storage (CAES) plant functions like a giant battery by compressing air into underground geologic formations during off-peak demand periods. In peak demand periods, the precompressed air is used in modified combustion turbines to generate electricity.

Called the Iowa Stored Energy Park, the Iowa plant could account for 20 percent of the energy used in a year at a typical municipal Iowa utility and save cities and their utilities as much as $5 million each year in purchased energy. Peek expects the plant to be operational by 2012.

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