Monday, July 2

Isentropic get £14 million investment

One of the key technology innovations that will transform our communities into low carbon energy users is the development of low cost energy storage solutions. There are many companies and organisations that are developing systems that will work on a large scale, many use some form of battery, whether the common lithium based batteries or more complex flow batteries.

The need for energy storage is connected to the variability of renewable energy sources. The scale that renewable energy is currently used and will be used in the immediate future does not really require a great deal of energy storage, however with the growth in renewables and the greater use of electricity as the primary method of distributing energy, we need a cheap way of storing electrical energy to smooth out potential peaks and troughs. This will also enable the removal from our sysem of large coal fired power stations and other fossil fuel systems.

A company a few miles from Waterlooville - probably surprising to many - is at the front of this drive to provide a solution (they are probably world leaders). Isentropic was originally based in Cambridge and about a year or two ago moved to Segensworth near Fareham to take advantage of the local aerospace engineering skills. Their technology uses cheap and common materials, such as steel, gravel and Argon gas. Argon gas may sound exotic, but after Oxygen and Nitrogen, it is the most common gas in our atmosphere, so unlike lithium and exotic metals used in other solutions, Isentropic are using basic materials already well used and developed.

So what makes Isentropic special (apart from being in Hampshire) ?

Their system takes electricity from our electricity grid and power stations and uses it to power a special engine to pump heat from one container filled with gravel to another. Argon gas is used as the transfer medium. This effectively transforms the electrical energy into a difference in temperature between the two containers. When the energy is needed, the process is reversed and the engine is driven by the difference in temperature between the two containers and the electric motor that drove the engine as a pump, now becomes a generator and returns the energy to the grid as electricity.

The system is 75% efficient and this is similar to existing pumped energy systems such as Dinorwig in Wales which are currently used to handle the peaks and troughs in demand. When electricity demand is slack Dinorwig pumps water into a lake in the mountains, when demand peaks (everyone has a cup of tea at half time in a football match) Dinorwig releases the water in the mountain lake and it is used to generate electricity. Effectively it is a huge battery.

In June Isentropic received £14 million in funding to move their system from the prototype stage to the first trial system connected to the grid. This unit will be rated at 1.5MW/6MWh and will be connected to a substation in the Midlands. Future units will be larger and rated between 12 and 24MW.

Given that there are some 5000 substations in the UK. If each one was connected to one of these units, the storage capacity would be in the range of 240 and 480GWh ( based on the larger scale units envisioned and the capacity of the trial unit). In comparison Dinorwig has a capacity of about 10.8 GWh.

So this technology has a lot of potential and is likely to be one of many energy storage solutions that will transform our lives, enabling greater use of low carbon technology.

Various news and press releases:


Anonymous said...

You may be interested in the technology being developed by Highview Power Storage. This uses liquid nitrogen for thermal storage of energy. It doesn't seem to have got as much coverage as the Isentropic system, despite being a little further ahead: they've already deployed a prototype in a power station.

TheVille said...

I have looked at that technology before. They can also use air.

My interest in Isentropic is partly because it is a 'local' company although not based in Havant Borough. I was a bit surprised when they moved from Cambridge to Fareham! We obviously have more to offer locally than I thought.