A university in the UK has won £6m ($9.1m) funding to create a new Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage.

The University of Birmingham claims that the ‘liquid air’ technology could revolutionise the storage of energy, reducing the costs of integrating intermittent generation into the electricity system and ensuring power is available when it is most needed.   

The funding has come in the form of a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and is part of an investment of £85m to support university research announced this today by the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts.

The new centre will be based on the university campus and will be the UK’s first dedicated research facility for energy storage using cryogenic liquids, comprising new laboratories, state of the art equipment, and a major demonstration plant. 

Cryogenic energy storage systems use off-peak electricity to liquefy air. The cryogenic liquid that is formed is stored in a vessel then vapourised into a gas during an expansion process, which drives a turbine. This system generates electricity when it is most needed abd the university says that taking off-peak electricity and using it at peak times will solve the ‘wrong-time wrong-place’ energy generation and supply problem. A grid-connected pilot plant has been operating in Slough in England since 2010.

Professor Richard Williams is pro-vice-chancellor at the university, head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and is also lead investigator on the project.

He said: “Energy storage is the missing link in UK energy strategy and is critical to future UK domestic electrical energy supply and industrial needs. This award is for the groundbreaking technology of using cold liquefied air as a safe, cheap, large-scale energy warehouse. It will also provide the UK’s first research demonstrator plant to enable development of applications for use in the city and region.”

Toby Peters, co-founder of Highview Power Storage, a developer of liquid air energy storage technology and industrial partner on the project, said: “Liquid air is a perfect example of how British innovation can benefit society and the economy, with a partnership between the private sector and university. The use of liquid air could play a pivotal role in the low carbon future and also create a new industry for the UK worth at least £1 billion a year and more than 20,000 jobs.” 

Universities and Science minister David Willetts said that “for Britain to get ahead in the global race we have to back emerging technologies and ensure our universities have the latest equipment”.

He said the funding given to the university “will help scientists make new discoveries and take their research through to commercial success. It will drive growth and support the government’s industrial strategy”.

The university has also secured an additional £1m of funding for research into high-temperature thermal energy management and systems. It will investigate how materials which operate at the opposite end of the temperature range can play an important role in other energy storage technologies.