In short: Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) have developed a gravity system that will use elevators in high-rise buildings to generate and store electricity.

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The system, called Lift Energy Storage Technology (LEST), will rely on elevators already installed in existing buildings. When not in use to transport people, autonomous trailers load/unload containers of wet sand or other high-density materials into elevators and transport them between the lower and upper floors. The regenerative braking systems on elevators, which are most efficient when carrying heavy loads, will generate electricity that can be stored on site and used as needed.

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Researchers evaluate that there are more than 18 million elevators in operation around the world, and many of them are idle for a significant period of time.

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Lead author Julian Hunt said he got the idea after he moved into an apartment on the 14th floor of the building and spent a lot of time riding the elevator up and down.

Several obstacles stand in the way of real use. First, it is necessary to consider the bearing capacity of the ceiling of existing buildings, that is, how much weight the ceiling can support without collapsing. Operators will also need to allocate space at the top and bottom of buildings to store heavy loads, and consider how much additional wear the system will put on existing elevator infrastructure.

The full study was published in Energy magazine for those who want to dig deeper.

Image credit: Sean Pollock, Kelly L