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World first grid-scale liquid air energy storage project completed in northern England

The 5MW/15MWh LAES plant has been completed at the Pilsworth landfill gas site in Bury, near Manchester. Image: Highview Power.

The UK's energy storage sector took “a great step forward” after completing what is thought to be the world’s first grid-scale liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant at the Pilsworth landfill gas site in Bury, near Manchester, the two companies involved have said.

After technology provider Highview Power and waste management specialist Viridor finished working on the 5MW/15MWh LAES plant, it was officially unveiled today by Professor John Loughhead, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), almost three years after Highview revealed work was well underway on the demonstrator with backing from General Electric.

The project which was developed in partnership with Viridor, used £8 million of government funding to become the first operational demonstration of the LAES technology.

“We’re pleased to have been able to support the Pilsworth demonstrator through our Energy Innovation Programme aimed at accelerating the commercialisation of innovative clean energy technologies and processes,” Loughhead said.

“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.”

LAES converts air, which is stored as a liquid, into gas using an expansion process that releases stored energy to drive a turbine and generate clean electricity. Unlike battery storage, the process does not use any potentially harmful metals or chemical elements, being comprised mostly of steel.

This offers a lifespan of 30-40 years in comparison to around 10 for lithium-ion batteries, while at the end of life the plant can be easily decommissioned and the steel elements recycled.

Meanwhile, the long duration nature of the facility allows it to provide high levels of energy storage capacity to a number of reserve, grid balancing and regulation services.

In addition to providing energy storage, the LAES plant also converts waste heat to power using heat from the on-site landfill gas engines.

Gareth Brett, chief executive at Highview Power, 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.”

'Sustainability and innovation' at the the heart of the project

Aggregator Kiwi Power has been selected to take the facility into the ancillary services market, where CEO Yoav Zingher says the technology will allow the future grid, with high levels of renewables, to maintain system inertia and ensure the lights stay on while accruing “predictable, annual, recurring revenue”.

“LAES technology is a great step forward in the creation of a truly de-centralised energy system in the UK allowing end-users to balance the national electricity network at times of peak demand,” he said.

Richard Pennells, managing director, energy at Viridor, agreed and said: “The innovative LAES technology which has been developed through the Highview Power project could play an important role in supporting UK growth in low carbon, renewable energy sources and in maintaining the security of the United Kingdom’s electricity supply.

“Sustainability and innovation has been at the heart of this project and it is this focus which is required to reduce our carbon footprint and deliver the long-term energy security the UK requires.”

Close-up of the system. Image: Highview Power.

Taking on global demand

With the Bury LAES project completed, Highview Power expects a surge in interest in the technology as global energy storage demand grows and shifts towards long duration grid-connected systems.

In a recent report published by our publisher Solar Media’s Market Research division, analyst Lauren Cook pointed to this changing trend, noting that in megawatt-hours, battery energy storage capacities installed in the UK by the end of 2022 will be 50 times what they were as 2017 ended.

Brett added: “The market opportunity for LAES technology is exciting – we estimate that 60% of the global energy storage market comprises long-duration, grid connected storage and that our LAES technology is ready to meet almost half of this (45%).”

He went on to claim that utilities, which have been assessing “the unique solution” offered by LAES technology for some time, are now using the operating data from the site to confirm their expectations.

“We are therefore already in detailed negotiations to build plants ten times the size of this one for utility customers of several nationalities and for various different applications,” Brett revealed.

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