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University wins €2.2m research grant for cryogenic energy storage

London South Bank University share of €7m EU research grant to examine whether refrigeration warehouses and food processing plants could store and supply electricity.

Storage project could save 9m tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year.

London South Bank University’s School of The Built Environment and Architecture 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.

The increase in energy coming from renewable energy poses a heightened risk of fluctuations in our future electricity supply, due to the unpredictability of weather patterns, the university said: “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 grant will enable LSBU to lead a pan-European consortium of researchers on a three and a half year project entitled CryoHub.

At the centre of CryoHub is the prospect of using cryogenic energy storage to store and generate electricity on a mass-scale, using cooling and heating technology from refrigerated warehouses and food processing plants. But this is just one potential benefit of LSBU’s research.

The refrigeration and processing plants at the centre of the project are themselves high consumers of electricity. CryoHub will investigate the potential for CES to shift the energy that these units use from periods of highest demand on the grid to times when demand is much lower. The researchers estimate that if the technology were applied to just 10 per cent of the refrigerated warehouses and food factories in Europe it could save nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per year.

LSBU’s share of the €7m grant is €2.2m. The grant bid was led by Professor Judith Evans, with significant input from Dr Alan Foster and Tim Brown.

Professor Evans explained how the 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.”

She added that 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.”

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 the energy going in is compared to the energy coming out.

CryoHub hopes to improve CES efficiency by aligning it with the cooling and heating facilities found in industrial refrigeration warehouses and food processing plants. It is hoped that clever design and integration of existing cooling and heating equipment will enable sufficient CES efficiency gains to be made to make the technology market-viable in the near future.

Professor Evans said: “With Europe committed to generating 20 per cent of its required energy from renewable sources in 2020, it’s vital that renewable energy sources are fully and properly integrated with industry so that supply from the grid can continue to meet demand. Only through advances in technology will this be achievable, so CryoHub will be an important project in helping Europe to move towards a low-carbon economy.”

Professor Graeme Maidment, IOR president and Director of LSBU’s Centre of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Research, added: “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 LSBU’s position as an internationally leading research team working in an important engineering discipline that contributes to many aspects of everyday life.”

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