The Big Freeze: how cryogenics is being used to generate energy

A site in Manchester has become the home of the UK’s first cryogenic energy generation and storage station.

Cryogenics involves the study and use of materials at low temperatures; not to be confused with cryonics, the controversial technology which is famous for its use in preservation after death by people who believe that resuscitation may be possible in the future.

cryogenics, generate, energy, manchester

While the practice of cryonics is part of cryogenic science, it is not widely accepted by the scientific community. However, the application of cryogenic technology in driving renewable energy has a solid scientific grounding, and it is being demonstrated in the North West.

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The Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES) system uses cryogenic techniques to supercool ambient air to -190°, turning it from a gas into liquid form. This liquid is then stored in tanks, before being heated up; when heated, the liquid begins to turn back into gas.

As it transforms, it also expands – ambient air is about 700 times as voluminous as supercool liquid air – and this is used to drive a turbine which subsequently generates electricity.

This video explains the process behind the energy generation:

The energy station has a capacity of 5 MW, which means it can provide enough energy to power 5000 homes. Highview Power Storage, the company behind the project, is confident that the technology can be scaled up by a huge degree, and have published a conceptual plan for a 200 MW power plant.

The liquid air can also be stored for some time, meaning that LAES systems have the potential to act as ‘batteries’ and as such, the site operator is confident that the technology can be used to plug gaps in the National Grid which will arise as a result of the use of intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind power.

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The plant comes with the additional benefit that it uses waste heat from other sources to power its operations, as well as using off-peak electricity, making it more cost efficient.

In Manchester, excess heat from a nearby landfill gas generation site is used as part of the cryogenic process. This can lead to production which is so efficient that net electricity generation is greater than the energy required to produce it.

Highview Power Storage has a number of projects around the UK; you can find out more about the company and their ongoing projects here.

 

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