Highview Power secures 300M to build UKs first liquid air battery

UK scaleup Highview Power has secured £300mn to build a liquid air storage plant in Manchester. 

The UK government's Infrastructure Bank led the funding round. Investment bank Goldman Sachs, British energy firm Centrica, and mining giant Rio Tinto also took part.

The investment acts as a stamp of approval for an emerging technology that could help wean the country off dirty sources of baseload power like gas and coal.

“We have to explore new, innovative ways to store energy so we have electricity available when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine,” said Chris O'Shea, group chief executive at Centrica.

Highview will locate its new plant in Carrington, on the outskirts of Manchester. Once complete, it will have a storage capacity of 300 MWh. 

That's enough energy to power around 300,000 homes. However, this energy won't release all at once, but gradually — 50 MWs per hour over six hours. 

Construction on the plant has begun, with completion scheduled for early 2026. Highview expects the project to support over 700 jobs.

Highview appears to have started building the plant back in 2020. We've reached out to the company to find out what caused the long delay and we'll update this article once we get a response. 

Liquid air battery

Liquid air storage, also known as cryogenic energy storage, operates like a giant battery. It stores renewable energy when it's plentiful, for instance on a windy or sunny day, and then releases it as needed.  

Cryogenic energy storage might be new, but it's not unproven. Highview and some of its competitors, like Hydrostor from Canada, have already built grid-connected demonstrator plants.  

A 3D render of Highview's liquid air storage plant. Credit: Highview Power

The technology is actually quite simple. You use excess energy from the grid to compress air, cooling it down to temperatures as low as -200°C. This turns the air into liquid. When you need energy again you decompress the air, which passes over a turbine, generating electricity. 

Liquid air storage can store renewable energy for up to several weeks, much longer than lithium-ion batteries. Highview says its facilities can be built pretty much anywhere and take only a couple of years to construct.

Stabilising the grid

Richard Butland, the Highview's co-founder & CEO, said the Carrington project will act as a foundation for a “full scale roll-out in the UK.” 

The scaleup is already planning four more plants. These will be larger than the Carrington facility, with a combined energy storage capacity of 2.5 GWh. Together, Highview expects plants to cost £3bn.

Julian Leslie, director and chief engineer at Britain's electricity operator National Grid, predicts that 4GW of liquid air storage will be required over the coming decades. “Highview's plans are welcomed to support this target,” he said.

To meet this demand, Highview intends to build even more plants in order to meet 20% of the UK's energy storage capacity by 2035. This ambitious plan would cost £9bn and would support 6,000 jobs, according to the company.

Liquid air storage isn't the only option at the government's disposal. The UK is also investing heavily in lithium-ion battery farms and giant water batteries. Meanwhile, startups across Europe are working to scale everything from energy-storing lifts and sand batteries to giant domes filled with CO2.

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