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Liquid Air Energy Storage Developing in England

As the demand for energy continues to increase, the industry must not only improve methods of producing energy; but also, methods of storing and distributing it.

Increasingly efficient alternatives to traditional lithium-ion batteries are constantly undergoing development, with one of the most inventive ideas being liquid air energy storage (LAES), a form of cryogenic energy storage.

While there has been a range of national and international testing to date, few significant breakthroughs in this field have come from the UK, until early June, when the world-first grid-scale LAES plant was finished in Bury, near Manchester. With a capacity of 5MW/15MWh, the plant was the product of a collation between technology provider Highview Power and waste management company Viridor. The project has a strong backing from multinational giant General Electric and received an additional £8 million of government funding.

The science behind LAES includes storing air as a liquid and converting it into gas via an expansion process, which then releases stored energy to drive a turbine, thus generating energy “on demand”. Previously LAES has faced challenges around scale and subsequently large industrial applications.

John Loughhead, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who also unveiled the news of the completion to the public, says about this project: “The deployment of smart, flexible technologies, such as energy storage, will help to ensure the UK has a secure, affordable and clean energy system now and in the future in keeping with the priorities within UK Government’s Modern Industrial Strategy.”

Bury’s new LAES plant undoubtably represents a significant step forward in creating viable alternatives for lithium-ion batteries, which suffer from a steep degradation process. The LAES plant is expected to return a 70% efficiency, compared to batteries’ 80%, so we are excited to see how future developments can gradually surpass this benchmark.

In terms of environmental benefits, LAES should be substantially less polluting than traditional batteries, of which approximately only 5% are recycled. While cooling air to such an extreme temperature (approximately -194 degrees Celsius), whether it be by compression, cooling, or expansion, can be an expensive process, their use of industrial components greatly improves durability and greatly offsets costs, furthermore, their reliance on steel rather than harmful metals/chemicals sharply reduces their long-term environmental impact.

It is always exciting to hear about UK engineering and innovation breaking new ground, and Dashboard is eager to see how industrial uses for LAES will quickly develop over the coming years.