Cryogenic energy storage

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Cryogenic energy storage (CES) is the use of low temperature (cryogenic) liquids such as liquid air or liquid nitrogen as energy storage.[1][2] Both cryogens have been used to power cars. The inventor Peter Dearman initially developed a liquid air car, and then used the technology he developed for grid energy storage. The technology is being piloted at a UK power station.[3]


A liquid air powered car called Liquid Air was built between 1899 and 1902 but it couldn't at the time compete in terms of efficiency with other engines.[4] More recently, a liquid nitrogen vehicle was built. Peter Dearman, a garage inventor in Hertfordshire, UK who had initially developed a liquid air powered car, then put the technology to use as grid energy storage [5] The Dearman engine differs from former nitrogen engine designs in that the nitrogen is heated by combining it with the heat exchange fluid inside the cylinder of the engine.[6][7]

Grid energy storage[edit]


When it is cheaper (usually at night), electricity is used to cool air from the atmosphere to -195 °C using the Claude Cycle to the point where it liquefies. The liquid air, which takes up one-thousandth of the volume of the gas, can be kept for a long time in a large vacuum flask at atmospheric pressure. At times of high demand for electricity, the liquid air is pumped at high pressure into a heat exchanger, which acts as a boiler. Air from the atmosphere at ambient temperature, or hot water from an industrial heat source, is used to heat the liquid and turn it back into a gas. The massive increase in volume and pressure from this is used to drive a turbine to generate electricity.[8]


In isolation the process is only 25% efficient, but this is greatly increased (to around 50%) when used with a low-grade cold store, such as a large gravel bed, to capture the cold generated by evaporating the cryogen. The cold is re-used during the next refrigeration cycle.[8]

Efficiency is further increased when used in conjunction with a power plant or other source of low-grade heat that would otherwise be lost to the atmosphere. Highview Power Storage claims an AC to AC round-trip efficiency of 70%, by using an otherwise waste heat source at 115 °C.[9] The IMechE (Institution of Mechanical Engineers) agrees that these estimates for a commercial-scale plant are realistic.[5] However this number was not checked or confirmed by independent professional institutions.

Currently surplus gaseous nitrogen is produced as a byproduct in the production of oxygen.[6] Oxygen can be used in oxy-combustion coal power plants, enabling CO
capture and sequestration.[10] This gaseous nitrogen can be liquefied by available liquefaction capacities for further use. Cryogenic distillation of air is currently the only commercially viable technology for large scale oxygen production.[10]

Pilot plant[edit]

A 300 kW, 2.5 MWh storage capacity[11] pilot cryogenic energy system developed by researchers at the University of Leeds and Highview Power Storage,[12] that uses liquid air (with the CO
and water removed as they would turn solid at the storage temperature) as the energy store, and low-grade waste heat to boost the thermal re-expansion of the air, operated at a 80MW biomass power station in Slough, UK, from 2010 until 2014 when it was relocated to the university of Birmingham .[5][11][13] The efficiency is less than 15% because of low efficiency hardware components used, but the engineers are targeting an efficiency of about 60 percent for the next generation of CES based on operation experiences of this system.

The system is based on proven technology, used safely in many industrial processes, and does not require any particularly rare elements or expensive components to manufacture. Dr Tim Fox, the head of Energy at the IMechE says "It uses standard industrial components - which reduces commercial risk; it will last for decades and it can be fixed with a spanner."[14]

Grid-scale demonstrator[edit]

In April 2014 the UK government announced it had given £8 million to Viridor Waste Management Ltd. and Highview Power Storage to fund the next stage of the demonstration.[15] The resulting grid-scale demonstrator plant at Pilsworth Landfill facility in Bury, Greater Manchester, UK, started operation in April 2018.[16]

This is based on research by the Birmingham Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage (BCCES) associated with the University of Birmingham, and has storage for up to 15 MWh, and can generate a peak supply of 5 MW (so when fully charged lasts for 3 hours at maximum output) and is designed for an operational life of 40 years.

Tacoma plant[edit]

In 2019 the Washington State Department of Commerce's Clean Energy Fund announced it would provide a grant to help Tacoma Power partner with Praxair to build a 15 MW/450 MWh liquid air energy storage plant. It will store up to 850,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen to help balance power loads.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The 2011 Energy & Environment Winner -CES". The Engineer. 2011-12-02. Retrieved 2012-10-25.
  2. ^ Rebecca Boyle (2010-08-11). "Grid Could Meet Sudden Energy Demands By Storing Power As Liquid Oxygen". Popsci.
  3. ^ "Electricity Storage" (PDF). Institution of Mechanical Engineers. May 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-22.
  4. ^ "The Liquid Air Energy Network". Liquid Air Energy Network (LAEN). 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment analyst (2012-10-01). "Liquid air 'offers energy storage hope'". BBC News, Science and Environment. BBC. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
  6. ^ a b Raili Leino (2012-10-22). "Mullistava idea: Tulevaisuuden auto voi kulkea typpimoottorilla". Tekniikka&Talous (in Finnish).
  7. ^ "The Technology". Dearman Engine Company. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-10-22.
  8. ^ a b "Process". company website. Highview Power Storage. Retrieved 2012-10-07.
  9. ^ "Cryo Energy System". company website. Highview Power Storage. Retrieved 2012-10-07.
  10. ^ a b "Air separation units for coal power plants". Carbon Capture Journal. June 22, 2011. Retrieved 2016-07-02.
  11. ^ a b Darius Snieckus (2011-12-06). "Liquid air energy-storage set for the big time after German deal". Retrieved 2012-10-25.
  12. ^ "Energy storage project wins major award". University of Leeds. 2011-12-06. Retrieved 2012-10-25.
  13. ^[permanent dead link]
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Plants". company website. Highview Power. Retrieved 2018-06-05.
  17. ^ "Commerce announces $10.6 million in state Clean Energy Fund grants for grid modernization". Washington State Department of Commerce. 2019-04-16. Retrieved 2019-05-06.