The intermittent power generated by renewable sources means that electricity storage solutions will become increasingly important as the UK transitions into a low-carbon energy infrastructure.
This is the belief of researchers at Nottingham University who are developing a new generation of super batteries that will collect, store and, when called upon, quickly release electricity generated by renewables.
Dr George Chen and Dr Christian Klumpner, from the university’s engineering department, are leading one of two Nottingham research teams that have received a total of £1.1m in funds from E.ON to develop ways to meet the energy storage challenge.
Renewable sources such as wind, solar, wave and tidal power only produce energy under favourable conditions, for example when the wind is blowing. Storing that energy is necessary to ensure that supply will continually meet demand.
Chen and Klumpner are combining expertise in electrochemical engineering and power electronics to design an electrical energy storage solution called a supercapattery, which combines the benefits of a supercapacitor and a battery.
It will be constructed from carbon nanotubes — tiny hollow structures made from carbon atoms — chemically engineered with manganese oxide, a semiconductor traditionally found in off-the-shelf batteries.
Klumpner said that the team has an ambitious target of achieving 80 per cent efficiency with the system. According to Chen, this means that 80 per cent of the electricity that is put in to the supercapattery will come out.
While only able to demonstrate watt and kilowatt prototypes of the design in the laboratory, Chen added that the ultimate goal will be to find an industrial partner who can build a supercapattery with megawatt capacity.
A system of this size could provide the crucial stability needed by the national grid in the event of a national power surge. Chen said: ‘A 10MW to 100MW system is something good for a population of 10,000 to 100,000 people.’
Currently about five per cent of the power of the national grid is standing by in reserve (often thermal) in case of a power surge. To have generators on standby costs a great deal of money, whereas these devices could be called into action at very short notice and provide extra power within a short time frame.
Klumpner said that the energy storage solution will not only make electricity more reliable, but it will also have the potential to hasten the payback on renewable device installations.
‘Renewable energy is more expensive than other sources of energy today,’ he said. ‘Because it is more expensive than other sources of energy, we must make use of any amounts of energy generated and not waste anything to make the payback quicker.’