Work has started to build the world’s first commercial liquid-air energy storage facility near Manchester, northern England, along with a visitor centre that aims to turn the pioneering project into a tourist attraction.

A joint venture between UK-based Highview Power and independent solar/natural-gas plant developer Carlton Power will build and operate the 50MW/250MWh “CRYObattery” — which may later be expanded to add more storage — in the village of Carrington, close to Manchester United’s training ground.

It will be the first commercial project emerging from the upcoming range of build-anywhere long-duration intermittent-energy storage (Baldies) technology, which act much like pumped hydro but can be built anywhere.

The project – which received a £10m ($12.5m) grant from the UK government – is due to enter operation in 2023. But a visitor centre the partners are building next to the project site is due to be open in the first quarter of 2021.

Covid restrictions allowing, the centre will “provide an immersive experience allowing visitors not only to see the progress of the site being built, but also to have the opportunity to take virtual tours”.

Highview says its cryogenic energy-storage systems, which use frozen liquid air as its storage medium (see panel below) “are the only long-duration energy storage solution available today that are locatable and can offer multiple gigawatt-hours of storage. That represents weeks’ worth of storage, not just hours or days”.

How the technology works

Highview's liquid-air technology uses electricity to cool air down to -196°C, shrinking its volume by a factor of 700, which is then stored in low-pressure vacuum-insulated steel tanks — the kind that houses liquefied natural gas. When this cryogenically frozen 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.