Image showing heat loss from a house. New research on thermal energy storage could lead to summer heat being stored for use in winter. Credit: Active Building Centre, Swansea University

Funding to research thermal energy storage that could cut bills and boost renewables.

New technology that could store heat for days or even months, helping the shift towards net zero, is the focus of a new project involving the Active Building Centre Research Programme, led by Swansea University, which has just been awarded funding of £146,000.

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

Thermal energy storage – storing heat so it’s available when needed – has the potential to cut rocketing energy bills.

It also solves one of the main problems with renewable energy sources, known as intermittency: wind and solar power are dependent on the weather conditions. Thermal energy storage means excess energy generated at times when renewables are in abundance can be stored and released to make up future shortfalls.

The project, called Adsorb (Advanced Distributed Storage for grid Benefit), is aiming to demonstrate a modular system that could improve a building’s energy performance and reduce pressures on national energy systems. The system could be installed into new-build properties or retrofitted into existing properties.

The team will be evaluating two different types of advanced thermal energy storage technology, both of which are being pioneered by Loughborough University.

The first is Thermochemical Storage (TCS), which could provide storage for weeks – or even months – with zero heat lost. It 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, thereby ‘charging’ the thermal store. Once charged, the system can be cooled to ambient temperature and the energy stored. When required, moisture is reintroduced, which then releases the heat for use within the home.

The second technology is Phase Change Material (PCM). This has the potential to provide day-to-day storage of thermal energy at densities far greater than traditional technologies. The PCM system also employs a thermal source, this time to heat a chemical store to transition the solid material into its liquid form. The effect of this is to store 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, these technologies could significantly reduce consumer bills and tackle the problem of intermittency, boosting renewables and taking more carbon out of the UK’s energy supply.

The new funding will support a preliminary feasibility study, to assess the potential benefits of these technologies.

The Active Building Centre Research Programme will be working alongside Loughborough University, University of Sheffield, and Mixergy.

Working with industry is a critical element of this project. Mixergy brings valuable experience in commercializing innovative technologies developed within academia, but they also have proven supply chains and distribution models which can help these technologies reach mainstream markets quickly.

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.

Dr. Ahsan Khan, Principal Investigator of the Active Building Centre Research Programme, said:

“The decarbonization of heat simply won’t happen fast enough without innovation in thermal storage. So, to see BEIS prioritizing this critical pathway, and our thermal storage team developing industrial partnerships to make these technologies a reality, feels like a huge step change on our journey to net zero.”

Greg Hands, UK Government minister, 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.”

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