Liquid air energy storage firm goes fundraising

Highview's pre-commercial demonstration plant is due to enter operation this summer. Image credit: Highview Power Storage.

Highview’s pre-commercial demonstration plant is due to enter operation this summer. Image credit: Highview Power Storage.


By Jason Deign

Highview Power Storage has launched a growth capital fundraising round amid commissioning for its first pre-commercial liquid air energy storage plant.

The 20-strong UK company is looking for an unspecified amount of cash but will most likely not be talking to venture capital (VC) investors, head of business development Matthew Barnett told Energy Storage Report.

“Rather than going down the VC route, we’re sticking with high-net-worth angel investors and strategic investors,” he said.

The latter group might include businesses that could add value to Highview’s offering, such as an engineering capability, a route to market or complementary technology, said Barnett.

“If a VC came up with GBP£15m then that’s a different story, but there’s a time and a place for a VC to be involved,” he continued. “Maybe we’re entering that now, maybe we’re not.

Sticking with the same kind of investors

“Certainly the strategy is to stick with the [kinds of investors] we’ve had for the last few years.”

Highview has so far only received angel funding and is already in revenue, he said, thanks to fees from licensing and consultancy work.

The fundraising follows Highview’s handing over of a 350kW, 2.5MWh grid-connected pilot plant to the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage, and commissioning of a 5MW, 15MWh pre-commercial plant.

The pilot project was operated for four years before being donated to the University.

The pre-commercial plant, in Pilsworth, Greater Manchester, UK, is designed to be a precursor to a full commercial design that could be anything up to 200MW in size, according to Alicia Moghtader, senior communications executive.

The first commercial plant

Currently it is unclear whether the first commercial plant will be built by Highview or by a third party under licence.

GE Oil & Gas, the General Electric subsidiary, has been evaluating Highview’s technology for the last two years as a possible addition to gas-fired peaker plants, Barnett said.

“You’ve got a big shopping list of parts that you put together in a specific way to get the right configuration for this technology,” he said.

While GE Oil & Gas is predominantly looking at liquid air energy storage for the US market, Highview is also pursuing opportunities across Europe and in Japan.

A commercial-scale liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant is expected to take 18 to 24 months to build. “I would like to see over the next 12 months a project convert at a usable, commercial scale,” said Barnett.

Multiple projects in the next three years

Highview hopes to have multiple projects under construction in the next three years, he said. “A lot of eyes are on this pre-commercial plant being built,” he commented.

The Pilsworth pre-commercial demonstrator got a £8m grant from the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in 2014.

It is being built on a landfill gas site run by Viridor and is expected to go live within the next two weeks or so.

Highview’s technology is based on using spare energy to liquefy air or nitrogen, which can later be expanded to drive turbines. A big benefit of the technology is that it can essentially be assembled using off-the-shelf industrial equipment.

Also, unlike other large-scale energy storage technologies, such as pumped hydro or compressed air energy storage, Highview’s plants are not limited to specific geographic locations.

Increasing the round-trip efficiency

“LAES has the ability to integrate industrial low-grade waste heat and waste cold to increase the round-trip efficiency of the system by co-locating with industrial plants and LNG terminals,” said Highview in a recent press release.

“If integrated with renewables, LAES can help maintain green credentials, as it gives off no harmful emissions, uses no scarce materials and requires no complex recycling.”

Compared to other energy storage technologies, Barnett said: “The compelling piece is it might not be as efficient but it lasts a long time and you can deep discharge it.

“When you start deep discharging batteries it becomes a problem. Similarly with compressed air.”

Despite this, he said: “We don’t see it as a natural competitor to compressed air. It shares certain components. It’s more of a partner to that, for the projects where you don’t have geology to cope with it.”

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