Air-Powered Energy Storage Knocks Out Coal & Gas — Wait, What?

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In yet another sign that the COVID-19 recovery will be a green one, the firm Highview Power is rolling full steam ahead with plans for a fleet of air-powered energy storage systems in the UK. Once online, the new batteries will help shepherd more clean power into the grid, improve reliability, and guard against power loss in case of blackouts. In other words, air will do the same heavy lifting as a fossil power plant. Wait, air can do all that?

energy storage liquid air long duration
Highview Power is on a mission to knock out fossil fuels with a liquid air long duration energy storage system called CRYObattery (image via Highview Power)

A New Air-Powered Energy Storage System

For those of you new to the topic, yes, air can be used to store energy. One idea (there are others) is to super-cool air down to a liquid, which shrinks the volume. When you need electricity you let it warm up a bit, which expands the volume, which creates pressure. Then the pressure can be used to run a turbine.

None of this makes any sense in a fossil fuel scenario, because cooling air into a liquid takes a lot of energy. However, in today’s world of renewable energy, liquefied air can add value to a lot of expensive equipment that may otherwise be idled during periods of low demand.

Wind turbines and solar panels get their fuel for free, so they could keep on cranking out clean kilowatts regardless of whether or not anybody needs them in the immediate vicinity.

Some of that excess electricity can be moved around the grid. For example, the planned North Florida Resiliency Connection will shift solar-sourced electricity from one time zone to another.

As for the rest of it, that’s where energy storage systems come in.

Air-Powered Energy Storage Vs. Fossil Fuels

That brings us to the firm Highview Power. The company crossed the CleanTechnica radar last December, when it brought its proprietary CRYObattery utility-scale liquid air technology to Vermont in partnership with the solar developer Encore. Once completed, the new facility will help ease transmission bottlenecks.

Along with providing the same kind of baseload power as a conventional power plant, the new energy storage facility will also provide a full slate of grid services including market arbitrage, synchronous voltage support, frequency regulation and reserves, synchronous inertia, black start capabilities, and other services that monetize the facility while efficiently balancing electricity supply and demand, as described by Highview.

1 GW Of Air-Powered Energy Storage For The UK

That was last year. This year, Highview has been on a tear. It kicked things off in February when it lassoed an investment of £35 million from Sumitomo Heavy Industries, and earlier this week it announced a partnership with the firm Carlton Power to build five CRYObattery facilities in the UK for a total of more than 1 GW in energy storage.

First up is a 50 MW / 250 MWh liquid air battery in Greater Manchester, which won a £10 million grant from the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

So, here’s where it gets interesting. The CRYObattery will be located at the Trafford Energy Park, which was supposed to be the location of a proposed £800 million, 1.8 GW gas-fired power plant developed by Carlton.

The gas plans were formulated in 2014 and the massive plant was to go into operation by 2019, and there it would sit for its lifespan of 30 years. However, Carlton and its partners were unable to meet deadlines for financing the project, and the plug was pulled in 2016.

If you have any details to add about the backstory on that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Meanwhile, nobody seems to be crying over spilled milk, or gas as the case may be. Highview and Carlton plan to make good use of substation and transmission infrastructure at the Trafford site and take advantage of arbitrage income opportunities along with providing grid services.

Long Duration Energy Storage Kills Coal & Gas

If this is beginning to ring some bells in the department of long duration energy storage, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. Highview claims that its liquid air technology can store energy for weeks, not just for a few hours as is the case with conventional lithium-ion batteries.

Grid operators are turning to long-duration energy storage to improve power generation economics, balance the grid, and increase reliability. At giga-scale, CRYOBatteries paired with renewables are equivalent in performance to – and could replace – thermal and nuclear baseload power in addition to supporting electricity transmission and distribution systems while providing additional security of supply,” enthuses Highview.

Don’t just take their word for it. The US Department of Energy is eyeballing long duration energy storage for the sparkling green grid of the future despite all the hot air blowing out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In an interesting twist, the Energy Department’s interest in long duration storage was initially connected to its interest in at least preserving, if not growing, the nation’s aging fleet of nuclear power plants.

However, now it appears that renewable energy can fill the role that nuclear energy was supposed to claim for itself.

Aside from the CRYObattery in Vermont, one particularly interesting long duration project is under way in Minnesota by the startup Form Energy. The company cites a duration of 150 hours for its sulfur-based battery.

“We are going about this by developing a new kind of battery that would eliminate the need for coal and gas entirely, and allow for a 100% renewable, carbon free grid,” Form declares.

Hold on to your hats!

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Image (cropped): via Highview Power.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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