Liquid air energy storage could become £1bn industry

9 May 2013
By Edd Gent
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Highview's pilot liquid air plant hosted at Scottish and Southern Energy's 80MW Biomass plant on the Slough trading estate

Highview's pilot liquid air plant hosted at Scottish and Southern Energy's 80MW Biomass plant on the Slough trading estate

Liquid air energy storage technology could unlock a £1bn industry and 22,000 UK jobs, according to a new report.

The report from business and academic experts and published by the Centre for Low Carbon Futures (CLCF) found that the use of liquid air for grid-based energy storage could increase UK energy security, cut greenhouse gas emissions and create a new industry worth at least £1bn a year and 22,000 jobs to the UK.

Air can be turned into a liquid by cooling it to around -196C using standard industrial equipment and kept in an unpressurised insulated vessel as a means of storing the variable energy produced by some renewable energy sources.

When the energy is needed again heat can be applied to boil the liquid air, turning it back into a gas that can be used to drive a piston engine or turbine.

The report, launched at a conference at the Royal Academy of Engineering today, highlights the opportunity for a nation-wide network of Liquid Air energy storage plants that are charged by surplus energy at night, feeding the energy back into the system when it is needed most during the day.

Professor Richard Williams, pro-vice chancellor of the University of Birmingham, who led the report, says: “Solving Britain’s energy crisis requires better ways to store the power of the wind and the sun at large scale without relying on scarce natural resources, and liquid air provides a missing piece of that puzzle.”

According to the report a single gasometer-style tank of liquid air could make good the loss of 5GW of wind power for three hours – equivalent to almost 10 per cent of the UK’s peak electricity needs – and help to protect British homes from black-outs.

Smaller systems could also be used to provide zero-emission back-up and reserve services for surplus energy to replace diesel gensets.

Williams adds: “We have an opportunity, and growing need, to scale up our investment in technologies that will ensure the energy from renewables is not wasted, and the opportunities for the UK industrial sector are not lost.

“The Government is investing to give academic and business communities the chance to lead the world and develop new technologies and industries that can benefit the UK. Liquid air should be part of that effort; as the CLCF report published today shows, it is a prime example of a technology that has the potential to deliver a more efficient energy system and bring the benefits of green growth to the UK.

“Through our report, this conference today, we invite policy makers, the research community and private sector to consider our recommendations, join in the evidence gathering and debate, and build on the work already underway.”

Liquid air technologies could also significantly increase the efficiency of road vehicles according to the report, reducing diesel consumption in buses or freight vehicles by 25 per cent by using a liquid air and diesel hybrid engine and cutting emissions from refrigeration on food lorries by 80 per cent.

And the report also raises the possibility of zero-emission liquid air city cars filling up at road-side forecourts at a fraction of current fuel costs and with lower lifecycle vehicle emissions than either electric or hydrogen powered vehicles.

Responding to the report Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “Energy storage has the potential to bring significant economic benefits to the UK, but we must get better at taking our research through to commercial success.

“This is why we have invested £30m to create dedicated research facilities to develop and test new technologies. This will drive growth and put our universities and businesses at the forefront of innovation.”

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