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Finding the alternative energy solutions we need

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Finding alternatives to our current reliance on fossil fuels is vital if we wish to combat the increase in world CO2 production and climate change. One new technology is in the early stages of providing means by which we can store intermittent energy, such as from wind farms, where producing large enough storage batteries is not possible. Breakthroughs like this may well help us on our journey toward a low carbon economy.

I recently attended a presentation at the headquarters of the respected Institute for Mechanical Engineers about the development of storage methods using liquid air. This new technique has the capacity to store intermittent energy, releasing it when required, and thus smoothing out the highs and lows of wind energy.

It works by using electricity generated at night by wind farms to chill air to a cryogenic state. As people wake up and demand for energy increases in homes and by industry the process is reversed. Engineers working on the project say the entire process to save electricity, and then provide it when needed, and can achieve an efficiency of up to 70%./

The process works in a number of stages:

         electricity produced at night is used to remove CO2 and water vapour from air, they would freeze otherwise,

         the remaining air, mostly nitrogen, is chilled to -190C (-310F) and it turns liquid (this is what stores the energy),

         the liquid air is held in a giant vacuum flask until it is needed,  

         when demand for power rises, the liquid is warmed to ambient temperature, and

         as it vaporises it drives a turbine to produce electricity - no combustion is involved.


Assuming this technique can be developed on a large scale, it answers one of the questions about the development of wind farms, “what do you do with the energy produced when it’s not wanted?” It potentially enables wind power to become one of the core generating technologies, able to provide the low carbon power we require in a sustained way for the national grid.

The search for new technologies to produce and capture energy from renewable resources is multiplying, and I regularly meet people who are working in this area. We have to keep supporting the development of renewable energy and associated technology, and invest in the skills needed to solve the problems that threaten our society and our world.  

For further details visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19785689

Highview Power Storage: http://www.highview-power.com/wordpress/?page_id=1320f

Institution of Mechanical Engineers: http://www.imeche.org/Home

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