Japanese industrial giant Sumitomo Heavy Industries (SHI) has made a $46m investment in UK long-duration energy storage outfit Highview Power as part of a partnership deal to develop projects using its ‘cryobattery’ technology around the world.

Through the agreement, SHI-owned company Sumitomo SHI FW will become the technology hub for Highview’s cryobattery – a liquid-air energy storage (LAES) concept calculated to be cheaper than lithium ion batteries – expanding the technology's geographical footprint in Europe, Asia, and Americas.

“One of the biggest barriers to a carbon-free future has been the ability of renewables to perform as reliably as, and as cost-effectively as traditional fuel sources. Highview Power’s long-duration energy storage technology not only solves the problems that enable dispatchable renewables but will be a catalyst in bringing the energy transition forward,” said Sumitomo SHI FW CEO Tomas Harju-Jeanty.

Javier Cavada, CEO of Highview Power, said: “By partnering with a large technology company with the reputation of SHI, we will be able to benefit from their vast know-how, resources, and operating experience in diversified markets.”

Harju-Jeanty added: “SHI has been able to operate for over a hundred years because of our dedication to innovation and ability to adapt to changing markets, and with this partnership, we believe that Sumitomo SHI FW is well-positioned to drive our leadership position in energy markets of the future.”

Highview’s technology works by cooling air down to -196°C, shrinking its volume by a factor of 700, and storing it in low-pressure vacuum-insulated steel tanks — the kind that houses liquefied natural gas. When this cryogenically frozen liquid air is exposed to ambient temperatures, it turns back into a gas and rapidly expands, with the rush of air from this 700-fold expansion directly driving an electricity-generating turbine.

The company’s LAES system is thought to be cheaper than lithium-ion battery solutions. Highview chief executive Javier Cavada told Recharge last July that a 100MW system would have a levelised cost of storage (LCOS) of just over $100/MWh. By comparison, a new pumped-hydro plant would have an LCOS of $152-198/MWh, with a comparable lithium-ion system costing $285-581/MWh, according to analyst Lazard.

The technology has been proven in the field at a 5MW/15MWh grid-connected pilot project near Manchester, northwest England, and the first commercial unit, a 50MW/250MWh plant is due to be begin construction in northern England in the first half of 2020.

Highview late last year announced that it would build a first US cryobattery plant in the state of Vermont with developer Encore Renewable Energy.