University of Manchester researchers working to solve UK energy storage conundrum

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Ensuring the UK has sufficient levels of renewable energy to meet its needs is only possible with suitable energy storage infrastructure – and University of Manchester experts are working to provide a “future-proof” solution.

In a new article published by Policy@Manchester, Professor Robert Dryfe highlights the importance of Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES) technologies - storage systems that can operate for periods exceeding 10 hours – in meeting this challenge.

He explains that the lithium-ion battery (LIB) is the market leader “in most grid-level or domestic energy storage solutions” including as “the driving force behind electric cars.”

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But he warns that “for energy storage on a larger scale, LIBs have certain limitations that need to be addressed to enable the transition to a fully renewable energy-based economy/society.” These include high cost because of their reliance on scarce minerals, and a dangerous fire risk due to their use of a flammable electrolyte which is prohibited in settings such as ports and airports.

University of Manchester experts are working to provide a “future-proof” energy storage solutionUniversity of Manchester experts are working to provide a “future-proof” energy storage solution
University of Manchester experts are working to provide a “future-proof” energy storage solution

Professor Dryfe believes that redox flow batteries (RFBs) “could be a less resource-intensive and cheaper solution to this problem, capable of storing energy for 10+ hours.”

He writes: “Our research at The University of Manchester offers a way to develop lower cost redox flow batteries. We are developing systems that avoid the need for use of relatively rare materials, such as vanadium. Our work developing ‘post-vanadium’ technology also has the advantage of low flammability and being non-corrosive.”

Professor Dryfe makes clear that the UK’s commitment to decarbonising the electricity system by 2035 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 “will require significant changes in domestic and industrial power supplies as these sectors represent a large percentage of overall energy use.”

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As such, “a transition to renewables must be accompanied by a transition of technology to large scale battery storage” coupled with “a similar transition to the storage needed to ‘stock’ this renewable energy.”

Professor Robert Dryfe, The University of ManchesterProfessor Robert Dryfe, The University of Manchester
Professor Robert Dryfe, The University of Manchester

Further, he argues, “to accelerate the scale and decrease the cost of battery storage, the UK needs to encourage investment in technologies that are capable of longer-duration storage, which in the battery context means developing new types of RFBs that break the current reliance on critical materials such as vanadium.”

He adds: “The deployment of smaller scale RFBs should also be considered, capable of supplying both stored power and back-up power to industrial sites, and other important facilities such as hospitals.”

Concluding his piece, the University of Manchester academic advocates the compulsory adoption of Local Area Energy Plans (LAEPs) which detail exactly where clean energy generation and energy storage facilities can be installed to maximise decarbonisation of homes, businesses and industry.

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“Currently around 100 local councils have LAEPs, with Greater Manchester Combined Authority trailblazing, having developed plans for all of its ten boroughs, and being the first at this scale,” Professor Dryfe writes.

“By working with local authorities and integrating LDES technology into LAEPs, effective solutions to strategic decarbonisation challenges (e.g. decarbonising domestic/industrial heating) are made possible. Policymakers should therefore consider making LAEPs mandatory and work with stakeholders to develop a funded framework.”

Energy Consumption: Solving the Storage Problem by Professor Robert Dryfe is available to read on the Policy@Manchester website.

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