With a budget of £4mn at its disposal, the new institute will focus on thermal and mechanical based energy storage technologies. These promise to overcome many of the problems associated with other methods, it says, such as batteries, pumped hydro power plants or compressed air energy storage systems.
“These all have several drawbacks,” says the new British-Chinese joint research institute. “Batteries often are expensive and have a short life-span. Pumped storage plants, such as Dinorwic in North Wales, UK, pump water uphill into a reservoir or lake. They later release the water downhill to drive turbines when electricity demand is high. But these systems are very expensive and require special geological sites, as do compressed air systems.”
Finding more effective and efficient ways to store energy is essential, it says, to deal with the problem of peak demand on electricity grids and to store excess energy generated from the increasing amount of wind or solar generation worldwide. Indeed, energy storage is forecast to be a key growth market for investors going forward.
Thermal energy, the new institute notes, accounts for about 90% global spending on energy. “It makes sense to find ways to store energy in the same form as which you want to use it.” Nearly 50 researchers will work on research projects to develop and test new materials and processes for energy storage and explore methods for transferring and using energy more efficiently in both domestic setting and industry.
The joint research institute is a collaboration between the Institute of Particle Science & Engineering at the University of Leeds and the Institute of Process Engineering (IPE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The two partners have worked together on projects for many years, but this is the first time they have agreed to coordinate and combine their resources.
Leeds has expert researchers in nanostructured energy storage materials, thermal and mechanical based energy storage technologies, and heat transfer fluids. IPE will make it easier to get new commercial solutions to market with its experience in integrating energy storage technologies with renewables and industrial processes, and its knowledge on how to scale-up processes and pilot prototype systems.
According to University of Leeds’ Professor Yulong Ding, the first director of the joint research institute, the initiative will help researchers to access funding opportunities in China, the UK, EU and other international sources. “This is an exciting and long-term opportunity which will help to secure our research into novel energy storage technologies over both the medium and long term. We aim to recruit high quality postgraduate students, produce joint publications and joint intellectual property and drive knowledge transfer,” he said.
“A collaborating platform is crucial to attract funding from UK, Chinese and multi-national companies and, once funding is obtained, to run the projects subsequently in an easier and effective manner,” he said.
One of the first activities of the joint institute will be to set up a scheme which will allow PhD students in the Institute to move between Leeds and Beijing. This exchange programme will allow the students to spend time in the different labs to progress their research and benefit from the expertise and facilities of the two partner organisations.