An exciting development in the UK energy industry took place last week – the launch of the world’s first liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant.

UK energy storage developer Highview Power opened the 5-megawatt (MW) plant at the Pillsworth landfill gas site in Bury, Manchester. It is the world’s first operational demonstration of LAES technology at grid-scale. This development will be able to power about 5000 homes for about three hours.

So, what is a liquid air energy storage system and how does it work?

How does liquid air energy storage work?

Highview CEO Gareth Brett explains how liquid air energy storage works: “We use electricity to drive a big industrial refrigerator that takes air –which we clean up in the process — and turns it into a liquid, which we keep it in a tank. When we want the power back, we add a bit of heat, which can be just from the environment, to the cryogenic liquid air that evaporates and expands back into ordinary air. And that expansion drives a generator which turns our stored energy back into electricity.”

  • The LAES plant uses air stored as a liquid.
  • The liquid is converted to gas, involving an expansion process that releases stored energy.
  • Gas drives a turbine and generates electricity.
  • It also converts ‘waste’ heat from the landfill gas engines into power.

One of the most exciting characteristics of a liquid air energy storage system is that it’s more environmentally-friendly. The process releases zero carbon emissions, and no harmful chemicals or exotic metals are involved.

What’s next for LAES?

LAES present the opportunity for utilities to transition to a low-carbon world, and the adoption of this technology is now a reality.

  • The global energy storage market is expected to grow to a cumulative 125 GW/305 GWh by 2030, attracting $103bn in investment over this period.
  • Negotiations are underway to build plants that are ten times bigger than the Manchester plant.
  • Highview estimates that 60% of the global energy storage market comprises long-duration, grid-connected storage. They say that LAES technology is ready to meet almost half of this.
  • Utility-scale storage becomes a practical alternative to new-build generation or network reinforcement.

What are the benefits of a liquid air energy storage system?

According to Brett, the new plant is “the only large-scale, true long-duration, locatable energy storage technology available today, at an acceptable cost.”

LAES technology can:

  • Enable the broader deployment of renewable energy by helping to smooth peaks and troughs in demand.
  • Help meet rising energy demands.
  • Provide grid-balancing, reserve and regulation services.
  • Respond the changing patterns of consumption both locally and nationally.
  • Play an essential role in supporting UK growth in low carbon, renewable energy sources and in maintaining the security of the UK’s electricity supply.
  • Ensure that the UK has an affordable, clean and secure energy solution.
  • Scale to hundreds of megawatts to meet the energy demands of small towns, and even large cities.

With innovation and sustainability at the heart of the LAES project, this technology could form part of the solution to deliver the long-term energy security that the UK needs.