Liquid air could be good way to store energy

November 2, 2012 at 10:00 am

Storing energy is one of the biggest challenges that the renewable energy industry faces. However, one potential solution has been highlighted by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and it comes in the form of liquid gas.

One of the problems with renewable energy sources like wind turbines is that energy is often produced when it is not needed, such as during the night. The challenge is to capture this energy, store it away, and then use it when it is needed without losing too much of the energy in the process.

A BBC article recently highlighted a potential solution being suggested by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers that involves the cooling of air to a liquid form as a way of storing energy.

The technology was originally developed by inventor Peter Dearman who lives in Hertfordshire. A company, Highview Power Storage, was later set up to trial a new system and it is funded in part by the government.

The process involves using electricity produced at the wrong time to gather air, from which the water vapour and CO2 are removed. It is then cooled to -190C, at which point it turns to liquid and can be stored. It is contained within a vacuum sack until it is required, when it is then warmed up. As the gas expands it drives the turbine, which produces the power.

Although it is only 25% efficient on its own, when the generator is placed next to an industrial plant where heat is produced, it can use this heat to make the process more efficient. Experts suggest that it could actually have an efficiency of 70% in the future.

Although this is not quite as efficient as current batteries, the benefits are that it is long lasting, is easy to maintain and only uses standard components, all of which make it a potentially attractive option that we may see more of in the future.

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