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LSBU wins EU research grant to develop ground-breaking energy storage technology

LSBU has secured a major EU research grant to examine if cooling facilities in food processing plants could be used to store and supply electricity
17 September 2015

London South Bank University (LSBU)'s School of The Built Environment and Architecture, one of the leading urban engineering and sustainability research centres in the UK, is to investigate the potential of a promising new technology – cryogenic energy storage (CES) – to solve the problem of how to store excess renewable energy. 

With more and more of our energy coming from renewable energy sources, such as wind, tidal or solar power, there is a heightened risk of fluctuations in our future electricity supply, due to the unpredictability of weather patterns. Technology to store excess energy from periods of high production, for release during periods of low production or high energy demand, is currently very limited, but would be of great significance to the energy industry.

The €7m grant will enable the university to lead a pan-European consortium of researchers on a three and a half year project entitled CryoHub. LSBU's share of the funding is €2.2m. The grant bid was led by Professor Judith Evans, with significant input from Dr Alan Foster and Tim Brown.

At the centre of CryoHub is the prospect of using CES to store and generate electricity on a mass-scale. Professor Evans explains how the CES technology works in practice: 

“CES essentially uses cheap, off-peak electricity to convert air into a liquid, which can then be stored over a long period of time in a storage vessel. Turning the liquid back to gas, by removing it from the store and applying heat to it, will produce a huge increase in volume and pressure – enough to power a turbine to generate electricity which can then be supplied back to the grid.”

“Because the liquid can be taken out of storage on demand, the technology can be used to restore electricity to the grid when energy demand is predicted to outstrip supply. It could also be used locally, also saving grid energy. CES is therefore a great complement to renewable energy sources, as it effectively safeguards against any periods of intermittent supply and helps to stabilise the energy grid.”

Whilst at present a highly promising technology, CES is not yet efficient enough to be rolled out on a large scale, as the system currently has relatively low ‘round-trip’ efficiency when you compare the energy going in versus the energy coming out. CryoHub hopes to improve CES efficiency by aligning it with pre-existing powerful cooling and heating facilities found in industrial refrigeration warehouses and food processing plants. It is hoped that clever design and integration of existing equipment for cooling and heating processes will enable sufficient efficiency gains to be made to make the technology market-viable in the near future.

Professor Graeme Maidment, Director of LSBU’s Centre of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Research, comments: "This grant win is a fantastic success and builds on a portfolio of research funding totalling over £6 million in the last 10 years.  It strengthens our position as an internationally leading research team working in an important engineering discipline that contributes to many aspects of everyday life."