New Thermal Energy Storage Project Could Reduce Bills and Promote Renewables

The goal of a new project involving the Active Building Centre Research Program, directed by Swansea University, has recently been bestowed a £146,000 fund. The project is focussing on a technology capable of storing heat for days or even months, aiding the move toward net-zero.

New Thermal Energy Storage Project Could Reduce Bills and Promote Renewables.
Image showing heat loss from a house. New research on thermal energy storage could lead to summer heat being stored for use in winter. Image Credit: Active Building Centre, Swansea University.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is financially supporting the project through the Longer Duration Energy Storage Demonstration program, part of the £1bn Net Zero Innovation Portfolio (NZIP).

Thermal energy storage — storing heat so that it is available when required — has the potential to lower increasing energy bills.

It also solves one of the key issues with renewable energy sources, called intermittency: solar and wind power rely on weather conditions. Thermal energy storage means surplus energy produced at times when renewables are in abundance can be stored and discharged to compensate for future deficits.

The project, referred to as Adsorb (Advanced Distributed Storage for grid Benefit), is aiming to exhibit a modular system that could enhance the energy performance of a building and decrease pressures on national energy systems. The system could be fixed into new building properties or retrofitted into current properties.

The team will be assessing two diverse types of innovative thermal energy storage technology, both of which are being established by Loughborough University.

The first technology is Thermochemical Storage (TCS), which could offer storage for weeks — or even months — with zero heat loss. It runs by taking heat from a thermal source such as an electrical heating element, heat pump or solar thermal collector to dehydrate an active material, thus “charging” the thermal store.

After “charging”, the system can be cooled to room temperature and the energy stored. When needed, moisture is reintroduced, which then discharges the heat for use within the building.

The second technology is Phase Change Material (PCM). This has the potential to offer day-to-day storage of thermal energy at densities much greater than conventional technologies. The PCM system also uses a thermal source, in this case, to heat a chemical store to change the solid element into its liquid form.

The effect of this is to store dormant heat for a number of days. The heat stored can be discharged to offer hot water or space heating simply by pumping lower temperature water via the system.

Integrated with smart control systems, these technologies could considerably decrease consumer bills and overcome intermittency issues, increasing renewables, and removing more carbon out of the UK’s energy supply.

The new funding will assist an initial feasibility study, to evaluate the potential advantages of these technologies.

The Active Building Centre Research Program will be partnering with Loughborough University, the University of Sheffield and Mixergy.

Working with industry is an important factor of this project. Mixergy offers the valuable experience of commercializing ground-breaking technologies created within academia, but they also have established supply chains and distribution models which can get these technologies out into the mainstream markets quickly.

Having developed, introduced and expanded a market for their smart stratified domestic hot water tank, the Mixergy team, as part of this project, is also exploring how the planned smart thermal storage system could be incorporated with currently available domestic energy systems.

The decarbonisation of heat simply won’t happen fast enough without innovation in thermal storage. So, to see BEIS prioritising this critical pathway, and our thermal storage team developing industrial partnerships to make these technologies a reality, feels like a huge step change on our journey to net zero.

Dr. Ahsan Khan, Principal Investigator of the Active Building Centre Research Program, Swansea University

Greg Hands, UK Government minister, stated:

“Driving forward energy storage technologies will be vital in our transition towards cheap, clean, and secure renewable energy. It will allow us to extract the full benefit from our home-grown renewable energy sources, drive down costs and end our reliance on volatile and expensive fossil fuels. Through this competition we are making sure the country’s most innovative scientists and thinkers have our backing to make this ambition a reality.”


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