The Active Building Centre Research Programme (ABC-RP), led by Swansea University and working with consortium partners Loughborough University, University of Sheffield and Mixergy Ltd, has secured UK Government funding for a preliminary feasibility study to investigate the potential benefits of longer duration thermal energy storage in supporting the UK’s transition to net zero.

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

The project team is aiming to demonstrate a modular system that could be installed into new build properties or retrofitted into existing properties to improve their energy performance and reduce grid pressures.

This exciting project will consider two different types of advanced thermal energy storage technology being pioneered by Loughborough University: Phase Change Material (PCM) and Thermochemical Storage (TCS). The former has the potential to provide inter-day storage of thermal energy at densities far greater than traditional technologies, whilst the latter could provide storage for weeks or even months with zero standing losses. 

The TCS module works by drawing heat from a thermal source such as a heat pump, electrical heating element or solar thermal collector to dehydrate an active material, ‘charging’ the thermal store. Once charged, the system can be cooled to ambient temperature and the energy stored. When required, moisture can be reintroduced, releasing heat for use within the home.

The PCM system also employs a thermal source, this time to heat a chemical store to transition the solid material into its liquid form, storing latent heat for several days. The heat stored can be 
released to provide hot water or space heating simply by pumping lower temperature water through the system. 

Combined with intelligent control systems developed by Swansea University and University of Sheffield as part of ABC-RP, the proposed technology could significantly reduce consumer bills and mitigate curtailment of renewable generation, accelerating the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy system.

Dr Ahsan Khan, Principal Investigator, ABC-RP, said:

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 through the LODES competition to make these technologies a reality feels like a huge step change on our journey to net zero.”

Working with industry is a critical element of this project. Not only do Mixergy bring valuable experience of commercialising innovative technologies developed within academia, but they also have proven supply chains and distribution models to aid the acceleration of these decarbonising technologies into the mainstream. Having developed, launched, and grown a market for their intelligent stratified domestic hot water tank, the Mixergy team, as part of this project, are also investigating how the proposed smart thermal storage system could be integrated with existing domestic energy systems.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Hands said:

“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.”