The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has awarded funding to the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage (BCES) to carry out an exciting study on enabling a more effective way of storing energy. Using liquid air energy storage (LAES) technology, it may be possible to provide vital electricity to the national grid within minutes, as well as serving as compressed air source.

In the UK, the provision of industrial compressed air accounts for 10% of all industrial energy use - around 10 terawatt hours of electricity per year in the UK. Compressed air is widely used for activities including pneumatics, ventilation, air conditioning control systems and food beverage packaging and bottling. Compressed air is often known as the ‘fourth utility’ after electricity, natural gas and water.

What makes compressed air an interesting commodity is that it can be used to store energy generated at times when demand is low and to then deliver that energy at a time when demand is high. This is often termed as compressed air energy storage (CAES). Storing energy, which would otherwise be wasted, is a key challenge to our future energy security, affordability and sustainability.

However, compressed air receivers allow a small amount of CAES but space and cost constraints mean that it is not feasible to increase CAES sufficiently to provide any significant use for Demand Side Response (DSR). DSR is a method of decreasing energy demand and is incentivised by National Grid who pay consumers to use less energy during peak hours or shift their time of use to off-peak hours. Using liquid air energy storage technology, the research consortium, led by technology focussed SME, Innovatium, with collaborators from Aeristech, BAE Systems, the British Compressed Air Society and BCES, believes it has a solution to these problems. 

The consortium proposes that when electricity demand and costs are high, air compressors are turned off and any of their process requirements can instead be fulfilled by evaporating pressurised liquid air (ambient air cooled to very low temperatures).  When demand and costs are low, the store of liquid air is replenished by liquefying suitably treated atmospheric air, allowing the process to be repeated.

Professor Yulong Ding, Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage Director said, “We’re very pleased to receive initial funding from the UK Government for this opportunity. This builds very well on our pioneering work into liquid air energy storage and thermal (hot and cold) energy harvesting and storage. It will be interesting to see our recycling process for the coolth being used, meaning that energy losses during the processes will be minimised when liquefying and storing the air and during power generation.”

Dr Adrian Alford, Chief Technologist at Innovatium added, “Through this feasibility study, we are assessing new potential economic pathways for compressor owners whilst keeping capital costs low by using a large amount of existing equipment in our processes. It is exciting to consider that the system pays for itself by generating revenue from DSR, as instruction to reduce load will come when the grid is under capacity and electricity costs are high, and instruction to replenish the system will come when the grid is stable or over capacity and costs are low.”

The feasibility study is already underway, with a planned end date before Christmas 2017. During early 2018, BEIS will review the feasibility study and, if the consortium is successful, it will receive an invitation to submit an application for a £1m demonstrator of the technology.

For more information on this project please contact Omar Saeed, BCES Project Manager on or 0121 414 7608.