Energy stored as liquefied air: £300m investment triggers construction of UK’s first commercial-scale plant

Article by Adam Duckett

Highview Power
Richard Butland, CEO of Highview Power said: “There is no energy transition without storage."

HIGHVIEW POWER has received £300m (US$379m) in funding to build the UK’s first commercial-scale liquid air energy storage plant (LAES), designed to balance peaks and troughs in power demand as more renewable energy sources are brought online.

Construction of the facility is now underway in Carrington near Manchester. It is scheduled to begin operations in early 2026 and the company predicts it will provide more than 700 jobs in construction and the supply chain.

The plant will have a storage capacity of 300 MWh and an output of 50 MW per hour for six hours.

How will Highview’s new plant work?

The new plant follows in the footsteps of Highview’s Pilsworth 5MW/15MWh demonstrator which began operations in nearby Bury in 2018.

The technology relies on the decades-old Claude process used for the liquefaction of gases. Air is cleaned, dried and then refrigerated through a series of compression and expansion stages until it liquefies. It is then stored in insulated tanks.

Once there is demand for power, the liquid air is drawn from the tanks, pumped to high pressure, reheated and expanded. The resulting high-pressure gas is then used to drive a turbine and produce power for the grid.

No fuel has to be burned during the process and the company has increased the efficiency of its process using a proprietary cold store to capture waste cold energy that can later be recycled to enhance liquefaction efficiency. Heat generated from compression during recharge is captured by a thermal store.

Commenting on the £300m investment received from the UK’s Infrastructure Bank and energy firm Centrica, Highview co-founder Colin Roy said: “Hard tech is hard! Few nowadays have the vision and courage to finance the development and scaleup of game-changing new heavy tech.” He thanked the engineers, investors and executives that have helped bring the technology to commercial use.

Highview Power says it will now commence planning on the next four larger scale 2.5 GWh plants which it predicts will require £3bn of investment.

Why is the technology needed?

As more renewable power is brought on the grid, more storage will be needed to balance out peaks and troughs in supply. During periods when the wind is blowing hard and there is more energy produced than required, these sorts of projects can store the excess and then dispatch it to the grid when the wind dies down, or solar power production falls short of demand.

Fossil-fuelled plants are currently relied upon to step in and make up any shortfalls. Highview says its technology will allow for their long-term replacement. It says storage technology will also help reduce so-called curtailment costs, where wind farms are paid to shut down so they do not overload the grid with excess power. Doing so cost Britain £800m in 2023.

LAES technology is one among many technologies that can be used to store excess energy from the grid, including lithium-ion batteries, pumped hydropower, hydrogen, and compressed energy storage. A comparison of these technologies was published by the UK government earlier this year as part of modelling on how the technology could benefit the national grid.

The analysis noted that longer duration battery technologies, including lithium-ion and flow batteries, have lower capex and opex, and a higher round-trip efficiency than technologies like LAES, meaning they lose less energy during storage. However, the capacity of lower efficiency technologies, including LAES, does not degrade over time, can deploy all their stored energy, and have longer lifetimes.

Richard Butland, CEO of Highview Power said: “There is no energy transition without storage. The UK’s investment in world-leading offshore wind and renewables requires a national long duration energy storage programme to capture excess wind and support the grid’s transformation.”

Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “My vision is for Greater Manchester to be a leader in the green transition – and Highview Power’s decision to build one of the world’s largest long duration energy storage facilities at Carrington is a huge boost for the region.”

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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