World’s first liquid air storage plant opens

Article by Amanda Doyle

Highview Power
The Pilsworth liquid air energy storage plant

THE world’s first full-scale liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant, which can store excess energy produced from renewable power, has been opened in the UK.

In 2017, renewable energy accounted for 29% of all energy produced in the UK. However, wind and solar power are variable and greater amounts of energy storage is essential for efficient use of renewable energy. Liquid air energy storage offers one such solution, and the Pilsworth LAES plant, located near Manchester, is the first in the world to demonstrate the technology at grid scale.

LAES works by using excess or off-peak energy to clean, compress, and cool air until it liquifies. The liquid air is stored in an insulated tank at low pressure until it is needed. The air can then be drawn from the tanks, pumped to high pressure and exposed to ambient temperatures. This causes it to expand, which drives turbines that produce electricity. The process does not use combustion and does not produce any emissions.

LAES could be a rival for other storage solutions, such as lithium ion batteries, as it has the potential to deliver lower cost storage over longer time periods. LAES plants are more durable as they can last for 40 years, compared to around 10 years for batteries, and the plants also have the advantage that they can be situated anywhere.

The 5 MW / 15 MWh Pilsworth plant will provide on-demand energy to the national grid, with the capability to power around 5,000 homes for around three hours. The technology can be scaled to hundreds of megawatts to meet the energy demand of large cities for days.

Speaking at the plant’s opening on 5 June, John Loughhead, Chief Scientific Advisor at BEIS, said:  “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.”

Gareth Brett, CEO at Highview Power, the plant’s operator, said: “Discussions are progressing with utilities around the world who see the opportunity for LAES to support the transition to a low-carbon world. We are already in detailed negotiations to build plants ten times the size of this one for utility customers of several nationalities and for various different applications.”

Yoav Zingher, CEO at grid aggregator KiWi Power Ltd, said: “LAES technology is a great step forward in the creation of a truly decentralised energy system in the UK allowing end-users to balance the national electricity network at times of peak demand. By drawing energy from a diverse range of low-carbon storage assets, companies can not only balance the grid but help meet rising energy demand and respond to changing patterns of consumption on a local and national level.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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