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Liquid air: the solution to wind power’s unreliability?

02 February 2012

A solution to the most pressing problem facing large-scale wind power – how to store surplus energy when the wind is blowing and release it when the weather is calm – will be presented to the public for the first time at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London on Thursday evening (February 2). Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES) takes electricity from the grid at peak times, such as on windy days, and uses it to cool air until it liquefies at minus 196 degrees Celsius.

Highview's pilot LAES plant in Slough
Highview's pilot LAES plant in Slough

The liquid air can then be stored cheaply and safely until it is needed, when it is exposed to normal, ambient temperatures. The liquid immediately turns back into gas, expanding by 700 times, which is then used to turn a turbine and feed electricity back to the grid.

UK company Highview Power Storage, which has been developing the multi-award-winning technology for the past five years, recently completed a successful year-long pilot – the first LAES plant in the world – connected to the National Grid and hosted by Scottish and Southern Energy in Slough. Highview are now working with partners in South Africa and China as well as the UK and Europe.

Dr Tim Fox, head of energy at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “Liquid Air Energy Storage is a very promising technology, using our most abundant resource to solve one of the renewable energy industry’s most pressing challenges. This is also a great example of 21st Century British engineering. The energy storage market could be worth over $100 billion over the next decade and create over 100,000 jobs. These are jobs which the UK sorely needs.”

Toby Peters, co-Founder and chief operating officer of Highview Power Storage, said: “Whereas many companies were focusing on fast response but relatively small scale battery technologies, we started out five years ago to develop a system which could deliver affordable, long duration, large scale energy storage. We identified this as the big gap in the market and today we are now seeing urgent demand for a large scale energy storage which can be deployed where pumped hydro is not viable.

“We now have a pilot plant connected to the grid and fully operational. Critically the system uses mature components so is ready to be deployed at commercial scale. With the right support, energy storage could not just help the transition to a green grid but also generate major revenue and jobs for the UK economy as well.”

Switching off turbines at times of high winds cost consumers £24 million last year and current energy storage solutions are proving insufficient: lithium ion batteries cannot be scaled up to hold large amounts of energy, while pumped hydro storage needs mountains nearby and billions of litres of water to be viable. The award-winning LAES system can store a similar amount as a medium-sized pumped hydro plant and has no geographical constraints.

Dr Rob Morgan, chief technology officer at Highview Power Storage, will give the first public presentation of liquid air technology at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1 Birdcage Walk, London SW1H 9JJ on Thursday (February 2) evening at 6pm. The lecture is free and open to all.
For a more detailed account of this technology, click here.

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