The world’s first grid-scale liquid air energy storage plant has been officially opened near Manchester.

The demo project, which has maximum power output of 5MW and a storage capacity of 15MWh, was ceremonially switched on by the chief scientific advisor at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), John Loughhead.

The plant is located at Pilsworth landfill gas site in Bury and was developed by Highview Power in partnership with recycling and waste management company Viridor, which is part of Pennon Group. The project was supported by £8 million of government funding.

The technology works by using excess electricity to compress air and cool it down to minus 196 degrees Celsius, condensing it into a liquid. The liquid is then stored in low-pressure insulated containers.

When electricity is needed, the air is removed from the containers and reheated, causing it to evaporate back into a gas and rapidly expand. The expanding air is used to drive a turbine and generate power.

Waste heat from the liquification process is stored and reused to assist with regasification. Waste cold from the regasification process is likewise stored and reused to assist with liquification. The technology has an efficiency of 60 to 75 per cent.

Source: Highview Power

According to Highview Power, liquid air energy storage (LAES) offers several advantages over alternative storage technologies.

Unlike most batteries, LAES does not require the use of expensive rare metals or harmful chemicals. The plant is comprised largely of steel, giving it a working lifespan of 30 to 40 years, compared to just 10 years for a typical lithium-ion battery. At the end of its life, the steel can be recycled without difficulty.

The storage capacity can be easily increased by scaling up the storage vessels. It is not dependent on the availability of appropriate geographical features, which limits the potential capacity of pumped hydro storage. This also means it can be located close to generation or demand, minimising transmission and distribution losses.

Highview Power says these qualities make the technology well-suited to providing affordable long-range storage, which will be essential to operating the power grid entirely on renewables.

The company expects the first commercial plant to have a power output of 50MW and a storage capacity of 200MWh. It has envisioned creating a “gigaplant” with a power output of 200MW and a storage capacity of 1.2GWh, and there are no technical barriers to creating even larger facilities.

Highview Power chief executive Gareth Brett, said: “Support from government, our partners and our supply chain, has enabled Highview Power to successfully design and build the world’s first grid-scale LAES plant here in the UK.

“The plant is the only large scale, true long-duration, locatable energy storage technology available today, at acceptable cost. The adoption of LAES technology is now underway, and discussions are progressing with utilities around the world who see the opportunity for LAES to support the transition to a low-carbon world.”

BEIS chief scientific advisor John Loughhead, said: “We welcome the accomplishment of Highview Power, working together with their project site partner Viridor, to successfully build and operate this grid-scale liquid air energy storage technology demonstration plant.

“The deployment of smart, flexible technologies, such as energy storage, will help to ensure the UK has a secure, affordable and clean energy system now and in the future in keeping with the priorities within UK government’s modern industrial strategy.”

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