Making an impact

The research at the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage impact the environment, economy and society. Here are just some examples of how our research is shaping the way we use and store energy across the globe.

Making more efficient use of curtailed renewables and off-peak electricity through composite phase change materials based thermal Energy Storage

The UK Government has passed laws to end its contribution to global warming by bringing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2020, while the Chinese government has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2060.

The challenge is significant, particularly for China being a country where 66% of its electricity is currently generated from fossil fuels.

To meet these targets, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and improve ambient air quality, significant levels of renewable generation must be adopted. Decarbonising thermal energy, which heat and cool our homes and workplaces, is a particular challenge as it accounts for 51% of global energy end use, only 10% of which comes from renewable energies.

However, the generation of renewable energy typically results in a surplus due to fluctuating supplies failing to match demand. This entails significant economic and resource efficiency losses. The solution is the creation of technologies that store surplus electricity produced during periods of low demand, thereby regulating supply. In this way, the use of conventional, carbon-emitting energy generation technologies can be minimised during peak demand times.

Research carried out by the University of Birmingham’s Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage and led by Professor Yulong Ding has led to significant impact on the environment, economy and society - shaping the way we use and store energy across the globe.

Among the Centre’s work has been a UK-China collaborative project which has led to the first commercial, large scale, composite Phase Change Material demonstration plant for curtailed wind power. This research project took wind power that would otherwise have been wasted, and converted it into heat that can be stored in materials and then used for space heating on a commercial scale.

The impact of this plant has been significant to the environment, drastically reducing damaging emissions by more than 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and 40 tonnes of sulphur dioxide since 2016. It has also significantly increased business performance of companies in China, increasing turnover and employment.  It has also contributed to improving industry standards in China, and is being further developed in the UK.

In February 2021, Professor Ding was awarded the IChemE Clean Energy Medal in recognition of his continued service in the field of Clean Energy, including his outstanding academic research and commercialisation of technologies that can help mitigate climate change.

New technologies for the UK transport system: An integrated vision for the future

Road and Rail energy infographic

View full-size infographic: New technologies for the UK transport system: An integrated vision for the future infographic (JPG)

In the context of the Government’s ambition to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050, a new vision for flexible energy infrastructure is required across homes, commercial buildings, transport and industry. Our approach is a radical transformation of new and existing infrastructure to provide multi-vector charging (electricity, heat, cold, hydrogen, ammonia) and discharging across transport modes. We envisage that infrastructure (e.g. service stations) could be used for our multi-vector charging approach, allowing different transport types to charge and discharge flexibly, according to their own demands but also those of the wider energy system. Using our novel technologies, processes and materials, we can create integrated energy infrastructure that keeps food fresh, gets medicines and vaccines to hospitals, creates economic opportunities, new business models and cuts emissions pout of picture. For more information, please contact Omar Saeed.

The world's first commercial composite Phase Change Material plant for curtailed wind power

A UK-China collaborative project led by the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Energy Storage has led to the first commercial, large scale, composite Phase Change Material demonstration plant for curtailed wind power. This research project took wind power, that would otherwise have been wasted and converted it in to heat that can be stored in materials and then used for space heating on a commercial scale.

The world’s first commercial composite Phase Change Material plant for curtailed wind power

UK and China scientists develop world-first cold storage road/rail container

University of Birmingham experts have worked with one of China’s biggest railway rolling stock companies to develop the world’s first shipping container using materials that store and release cold energy.

Using phase change material (PCM), Birmingham scientists and their counterparts at CRRC Shijiazhuang have developed a ‘refrigerated’ truck-to-train container that is easier and more efficient to operate than conventional equipment.

Find out more: Passively cooled containers being delivered for integrated rail and road cold chain transportation following world's first commercial demonstration

Novel solutions drive sustainable cooling

More than 80% of the global impact of refrigeration and air conditioning systems is associated with the indirect emissions of electricity generation to drive the cooling appliances. For all of the time spent engineering more efficient appliances, only a fundamental overhaul of the way cooling is provided would move the dial sufficiently to allow for sustainable cooling for all.

How can we deliver sustainable, clean and affordable cold chains?

Find out more: Clean Cold Chains

Energy Storage Roadmap

Dr Jonathan Radcliffe is leading the development of an energy storage roadmap that will assess the potential role of energy storage in the UK’s future energy system and identify the contribution of research and innovation to meeting the challenges.

Funded by the Energy Storage Supergen Hub, the roadmap has assessed four key areas, drawing on reviews of the existing evidence, expert input, and energy system and technology analysis:

  • Energy system scenarios out to 2030 (in the context of targets for 2050): considering the timing of the energy system transition, as generation from variable renewables grows and heat and transport are decarbonised.
  • The current and projected cost and performance characteristics of energy storage technologies.
  • Research capabilities, opportunities for manufacturing and the innovation landscape in the UK.
  • The policy environment as it relates to energy storage.

As a roadmap the purpose is not to prescribe a scale of deployment of energy storage, nor the measures that should be put in place; rather, Dr Radcliffe and his team set out the challenges and the options as a guide, highlighting some important features.

A published version of this document will be available in the coming months. For more information please contact Dr Jonathan Radcliffe.

UK Energy Storage Observatory

The UK Energy Storage Observatory (UKESTO) delivers free, current information from the UK's energy storage capital grant facilities, new demonstrator projects and research grants. Led by Dr Jonathan Radcliffe, UKESTO works as a portal where users can access comparative studies of different energy storage technologies, including electrochemical and thermal. The data indicates how these technologies perform when operated in a variety of scenarios e.g. providing services to the national grid. Data will continue to be captured and stored with sufficient granularity to provide data for research outputs, incorporating data into systems analyses and reliably informing industry on energy storage characteristics and performance. This process can de-risk investment in energy storage technologies, encouraging wider deployment as a result.

Find out more: UK Energy Storage Observatory

Liquid Air Energy Storage

Professor Yulong Ding, has been at the forefront of thermal energy storage research for over a decade, since he invented the current concept for Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES).

Cryogenic Energy Storage at the University of Birmingham

Highview applied this research to construct a five-megawatt LAES plant in 2018. The plant works by soaking up excess wind and solar energy, compressing and cooling air to -196°C, transforming the air to a liquid state that can be stored. When the stored energy is required, it is pumped to a high pressure and heated by ambient heat, creating a high-pressured gas that is used to rotate a turbine, which generates electricity. Acting as a large rechargeable battery the LAES plant helps the electricity grid cope with the increased uptake in renewable energy, which is often intermittent in its generation. In 2019, Highview Power announced plans to build a 50-megawatt LAES plant.

Find out more: Clean Cold Chains