BEIS funds innovative energy-storage research

The UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has detailed how £6.7m of funding from the Longer Duration Energy Storage Demonstration competition will be allocated. 

The competition will eventually allocate £68m in total from the £1bn Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, and the work supported by this latest announcement will support feasibility studies of first-of-a-kind prototypes of full energy storage systems. 

Edinburgh-based Gravitricity is one of 24 companies which have just received backing. This is for further study of its gravity-based energy-storage concept. 

In a manner similar to Dinorwig Power Station, the pumped-storage hydroelectric scheme which provides peak-time capacity and then re-stocks its reservoir using off-peak power, the Gravitricity technology uses a series of weights in a deep shaft. The weights can absorb or generate electrical power by being raised or lowered. 

Gravitricity states that the concept could be used to deliver storage arrays with capacities of 1-20MW. The company launched a demonstrator project in Leith last summer and aims to complete its current feasibility study by the end of this year.

“Finding low-cost, long-life ways to store renewable power will be crucial in the world’s journey to net zero,” says Charlie Blair, the company’s managing director.

“Our multi-weight concept has been proven by our Leith demonstrator where two 25-tonne weights were configured to run independently, delivering smooth continuous output when lowered one after the other. We were able to demonstrate a round-trip efficiency of more than 80% and the ability to ramp up to full import or export power in less than a second.”

A Gravitricity system with multiple weights offers a lower cost per megawatt-hour of energy stored, Blair adds. More weights give more mass, or megawatt-hours, whilst the number of hoisting systems — which form a substantial part of the asset cost — does not increase.

BEIS has provided backing for a series of other companies and technologies, including:

Sunamp, which manufactures domestic-scale thermal batteries based on phase-changing materials;

Cheesecake Energy, which converts ex-service truck engines into zero-emission electrical power conversion machines for energy storage — the resultant heat/compressed air-based solution is suitable for medium-scale/duration applications such as EV charging and microgram support;

B9 Energy, which offers a series of renewable technologies — including a distributed-scale compressed-air energy-storage system. 

ITM Power, which designs, manufactures, and integrates electrolysers based on proton exchange membrane (PEM) technology to produce green hydrogen using renewable electricity and tap water — its Ripcurl project is developing next-generation electrolysers for green hydrogen production. 

The last two projects gain support at a time when the UK Government’s Hydrogen Strategy is targeting 5GW of domestic low-carbon hydrogen generation and some key industry players are pushing for the amount to be doubled.

Energy storage is a particular focus because of the intermittent nature of renewable electricity generation. Current batteries’ inability to store energy for long periods without degrading is driving the exploration of new alternatives.