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Funding for multiple projects will support heating, cooling, and industry decarbonisation

Dr Binjian Nie, Departmental Lecturer in Chemical Engineering, has been awarded several grants to explore and demonstrate solutions in hard to decarbonize sectors using thermal batteries

Air conditioning unit

Heating and cooling for homes, industry, and commercial premises is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, currently accounting for over a third of CO2 emissions in the UK. Heat demand in the UK accounts for around 44% of final energy consumption and is currently predominantly obtained by burning natural gas and oil. Heating is a more significant problem than cooling in the UK currently, but the rise of global temperatures and resulting increasing demand for cooling means that finding solutions to efficient, affordable, and sustainable ways of cooling is also a global problem.

Renewable energy technologies are now proven to be effective and affordable for a growing range of applications, making them crucial to reach zero emissions. However, the intermittent nature of such renewable technologies means that energy from these sources will not be continuously available. Thermal batteries use the phase transition of phase change materials (PCMs) or revisable chemical reactions which can store thermal energy from renewables and release it at different times or spaces. Taking advantage of the large latent heat during phase transition or enthalpy from chemical reactions, thermal batteries can balance the intermittent renewables and heat demand.

Thermal batteries can facilitate residential and industrial electrification and a faster transition to Net-Zero.

Dr Binjian Nie, a Departmental Lecturer in Chemical Engineering, has been awarded several grants recently to explore these ‘hard to decarbonize’ sectors using thermal batteries:

The UKRI Innovate UK Energy Catalysts and UKRI Innovate UK KTN projects will explore and demonstrate off-grid cooling solutions in Vietnam and Sub-Saharan Africa respectively. Collaborating with the Oxford Martin School Programme on the Future of Cooling, the research team has been demonstrating an affordable solar-powered cold room using thermal batteries, which will enable the most vulnerable people, particularly women living in the poorest areas, to access cooling for fishing and aquaculture productivity increase.

The UKRI EPSRC New Investigator Award (EP/Y015924) will develop a magnesium oxide-water thermochemical energy storage which can be widely used for home or industry heating decarbonization. The thermal battery can work with many energy sources, from solar thermal to ground and air source heat pumps.

The UKRI EPSRC IRDIC project will support Dr Nie and his team in designing and testing a synergistic process for waste heat recovery, carbon capture and value-added fuels production using high-temperature thermal batteries up to 1000oC. This work has been based on joint grant support from EPSRC Supergen Cross-hubs, Henry Royce Institute, and EPSRC IAA. Working with the Humber Industrial Cluster, the biggest cluster for industrial and power carbon emissions in the UK, the high-temperature batteries aim to link cross-sectors in the region to tackle decarbonization most effectively.

Aiming at engineering low-cost hydrogen, the team collaborates with Oxford University Innovation and Oxford Science Enterprises through the University Challenge Seed Fund (UCSF) to build a synergistic demonstrator including hydrogen storage and advanced thermochemical energy storage-based thermal batteries which function as smart heating management. The roundtrip efficiency of hydrogen is expected to improve by 40%.

Dr Nie says, "Thermal batteries can facilitate residential and industrial electrification and a faster transition to Net-Zero. They can make UK homes, buildings, and industries more energy-efficient and sustainable while reducing carbon emissions and optimising renewables. They can also directly contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by providing universal access to affordable and sustainable energy in those poorest areas."