Liquid air is a novel energy storage solution based on proven technologies such as air liquefaction and separation for the production of nitrogen or oxygen for industrial use. According to the study, which was carried out by economists and scientists, it could play an important role in the efficient use of low carbon energy sources.
There is an urgent need for electricity storage solutions in Europe because the transition to renewables has seen a surge in electricity generation from wind and solar power. Surplus electricity now threatens to overload the grids, for example at night when demand drops. The surplus energy can be stored in liquid air and then used to provide electricity at peak times or when the wind is not blowing or solar energy absorption is hampered by cloud cover.
For almost a hundred years, Messer has been a specialist in liquefying air through compression and cooling as part of the production of industrial gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and argon – gases that are as important as water and electricity in many manufacturing processes. Experts from the energy sector met at Messer in Bad Soden to discuss electricity storage with liquid air – the results of this informed the study. Liquid air can be stored in insulated tanks without further energy expenditure. When it evaporates and turns back into gas, this process can be used to drive turbines which feed some of the electricity back into the grid. The experts consider this technology to be a potential solution for ensuring electricity grid stability in Germany too. Messer is continuing to work on this with its British partner Highview, who invented the technology.
“I am delighted to see the level of excitement that the possibilities of cryogenic technologies have created across such a broad swathe of experts from academia, energy and industry,” said Tim Evison, who is in charge of business development at Messer in Bad Soden. “Specifically as regards energy storage, there is a clear need for technology development to ensure future grid stability and to optimize the economics of a power supply based on renewables. The report confirms that liquid air is one attractive approach which should be pursued by industry, the energy sector, universities and government in partnership.”
“Solving the energy crisis requires better ways to store the power of the wind and the sun at large scale without relying on scarce natural resources, and liquid air provides the missing piece of that puzzle,” said Professor Richard Williams OBE, Pro-Vice Chancellor University of Birmingham, who led the report for CLCF.
Williams added: “We have an opportunity, and growing need, to scale up our investment in technologies that will ensure the energy from renewables is not wasted. The published CLCF report shows that energy storage with liquid air has the potential to play a role in a more efficient energy system based on renewable energy sources.”
The report “Liquid Air in the energy and transport systems: Opportunities for industry and innovation in the UK” was presented at a conference at the Royal Academy of Engineering on 9 May 2013 and published by the UK’s Centre for Low Carbon Futures. Contributors include Arup, Ricardo, Messer Group (the world’s largest owner-managed industrial gases company) and academics from the Universities of Leeds, Birmingham, Strathclyde, Brighton, Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College.
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