Liquid air energy storage could play a part in helping to crack the challenge faced by electricity providers globally: balancing power supply and demand.

Led by energy experts at the University of Birmingham, MANIFEST (Multi-Scale Analysis for Facilities for Energy Storage) is a £5 million research project that taps into Birmingham’s long-standing expertise in cryogenic and thermal energy storage.

The programme investigates how we can improve energy storage technologies through integration and explores potential application scenarios with a view to accelerating their use.

Web photo University of Birmingham energy storage in liquid air Cryo

Experimental cryogenic energy storage facilities at the University of Birmingham.

MANIFEST addresses a number of research questions about how materials can be better used in energy storage devices, how storage technologies can be better integrated and how integrated energy storage devices can be best optimised in the energy system.

The project, led by Dr Jonathan Radcliffe, brings together Birmingham’s expertise in liquid air and thermal energy storage with scientists from across the country working on thermo-mechanical and electrochemical storage technologies and their integration and optimisation.

Professor Yulong Ding, from the University of Birmingham and one of the originators of liquid air energy storage, is leading on multiscale modelling of energy storage systems in MANIFEST.

Professor Ding commented: “Modelling energy storage systems is extremely complex and challenging. The MANIFEST programme provides cross-university and cross-discipline collaborations for addressing the challenge. Equally important, and of particular interest to us, is experimental validation of multiscale modelling through this research programme.

“Technologies such as liquid air and thermal energy storage have great potential to help crack the energy conundrum: how can variable generation from renewables meet the needs of energy users. We have one of the world’s first experimental cryogenic energy storage facilities on campus and we have also achieved success with the first commercially available shipping container constructed from cold storage materials that can be charged with cold energy.”

Additionally, the University of Birmingham is leading on establishing UKESTO (UK Energy Storage Observatory) as part of the MANIFEST project – creating a national ‘observatory’ for energy storage that will give scientists online access to data from experimental facilities at the partner universities within the consortium.

In this regard, Dr Jonathan Radcliffe, Reader in Energy Systems and Innovation, said: “MANIFEST is allowing the detailed study of a range of energy storage technologies and their potential impact across the energy system. There is a focus on batteries now, but that is just part of what will be required to integrate renewables at the scale needed to be on track for net-zero. And while there is a growing number of energy storage demonstration sites in the UK and globally, there is little data available on their operations.

“UKESTO will connect energy storage pilot plants on university campuses to create a network of national facilities that establish the UK as an innovation hub – enabling the systematic study of energy storage technologies to an extent that is not possible with industrial demonstrations.”

The observatory makes use of the UK Energy Research Centre’s Energy Data Centre, a well-established national data repository.

Professor Ding and Professor Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, are widely recognised as the ‘founding fathers’ of liquid air energy storage. It was in 2004 that they identified the need for large-scale, long duration energy storage – and the potential to integrate mature components from existing industries in a new system able to scale to hundreds of megawatts. 

Working together, Professor Ding led the team which invented and proved the idea of cold recycle, key to achieving high levels of efficiency, and Professor Peters mainstreamed the concept of liquid air as an energy storage solution vector for electricity grids and clean cold and power.

The main component gases of air liquefy at ~-196°C and the result occupies a 700th of the volume of those gases at room temperature. When liquid air is warmed and allowed to expand, its forceful expansion can spin turbines – operating generators and recovering part of the electricity used for liquefication.

“We’re hugely excited at the opportunity to build on the University of Birmingham’s experience in cryogenic energy storage and help to unlock the potential of liquid air and other energy storage technologies,” said Professor Peters.

“Liquid air energy storage is a unique solution to provide low-cost, large-scale long duration energy storage with no geographical constraints. It also can harness waste heat or waste cold in the system to increase the overall efficiency further.

“With the demand now for energy storage, liquid air can emerge as a serious competitor to lithium-ion in grid-scale-storage.”

For more information on the MANIFEST programme visit: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/energy/research/centre-energy-storage/uk-energy-storage-observatory/multi-scale-analysis-for-energy-storage-manifest.aspx

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