Innovate UK’s survey on Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

Closes at 23.59 on Monday 6th February 2017

As part of the Industrial Strategy outlined in a Green Paper on the 23rd January 2017, a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) will be set up, overseen by Innovate UK and the Research Councils UK (RCUK). The ISCF is a long-term commitment to support Research and Development and the priorities are expected to evolve over time, with further consultations with experts.

In addition to workshops held by Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network during January on this, an online survey has been opened, seeking evidence supporting the development of the priority challenge areas set out in the Industrial Strategy. The survey provides those who were unable to attend the workshops with the opportunity to submit evidence, as well as for the workshop attendees to submit additional information.

One of the challenge areas is “Smart, flexible & clean energy technologies (such as storage, including batteries & demand response)“, among others. View the full list here.

The January workshops and the online survey aim to:

  • Develop the evidence base for each of the already identified challenge areas.
  • Identify some of the specific challenges within these areas which would particularly benefit from government intervention.
  • Gather suggestions for further broad challenges, and the evidence for them.


Related news: Government announcement supports storage.

Government announcement supports storage

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced up to £9.6 million of funding for the development of the UK energy storage industry last Wednesday. This will include competition funding for reducing the costs and for feasibility studies for large scale storage projects.

Read the full press release.

In addition, up to £7.6 million will be available for advancing demand-side response technologies and up to £9 million for an “industrial energy efficiency accelerator”. These all form part of the UK Government’s Energy Innovation Programme, 2016 – 2021, implementing the UK’s commitment to the COP21 climate change conference in Paris, when the UK joined Mission Innovation. This global initiative aims to accelerate clean energy investment and innovation, providing reliable and affordable energy for all.

This comes soon after the department opened consultation on their Green Paper on “Building our Industrial Strategy”. The consultation will close on Monday the 17th April 2017 at 11:45 pm. Find out more about this consultation.


There are two opportunities to apply for the £9 million energy storage cost reduction competition:

  • Tranche 1 – Register by Thursday 16th March 2017; applications close at 17:00 on Thursday 23rd March 2017; and
  • Tranche 2 – Register by Thursday 1st June 2017; applications close at 17:00 on Thursday 8th June 2017.

To apply for the energy storage feasibility study competition:

Register by Thursday 27th April 2017; applications close at 17:00 on Thursday 4th May 2017.

Find out more about the funding programme.

Harvard scientists in energy storage breakthrough with solid metal hydrogen claim

Have a pair of Harvard scientists created the most powerful form of energy storage known to humanity?

Hydrogen hit the headlines this weekend, as Harvard researchers Ranga Dias and Isaac Silvera published a paper in Science claiming to have transmuted hydrogen into a solid metal (Observation of the Wigner-Huntington transition to metallic hydrogen). The pair first announced their discovery in October last year, but the full details have not been made available until now and the breakthrough is causing quite a stir.

Researchers have been attempting to produce solid metal hydrogen since it was first theorised in 1935 (E. Wigner, H. B. Huntington, On the possibility of a metallic modification of hydrogen. J. Chem. Phys. 3, 764–770 (1935)). Silva and Dias claim to have at last achieved success by slowly ratcheting up the pressure in a diamond vice to 495 GPa, 50% higher than the pressure in the centre of the Earth. Under these conditions their team observed the material changing from transparent to black to a shiny red; evidence enough for a metallic solid, according to their paper.

There is nothing new in submitting hydrogen to extreme pressure, but Silva and Dias believe they succeeded where others failed by cutting back on high-intensity laser spectroscopy, which can destroy the diamond or the hydrogen it is trained on. Instead they initially used a low intensity laser to avoid damaging the sample:

For fear of diamond failure due to laser illumination and possible heating of the black sample, we only measured the Raman active phonon at the very highest pressure of the experiment (495 GPa) after the sample transformed to metallic hydrogen and reflectance measurements had been made.

The potential for metallic hydrogen could be huge, as it is predicted to be a room-temperature superconductor which could revolutionise materials science. Its potential for storing energy could also be phenomenal. In a previous paper, Silvera suggested that hydrogen compressed to a metal could pack so much energy that it could be ‘The Most Powerful Rocket Fuel Yet to Exist’.

Much of this potential depends on whether or not metallic hydrogen is metastable and would retain its solid form once extreme pressure was released. As it stands, the paper offers no answer to this question. Having reached the critical pressure required to create their sample, the team have not yet modified their set-up for fear of destroying the sample. This has left a lot of questions unanswered – is it really a solid? Is it stable?

Big claims require big evidence, and the team has come in for criticism from several quarters for a lack of follow-through on their experiment. Science’s online announcement of the news gave rise to the kind of heated comments threads usually found on political news reports. Nonetheless, Silver and Dias stand by their results, saying that they wanted to announce the news before a second-round of tests potentially destroy their sample. ‘If people disagree, they should go to measure it and try to show that it’s different than what was claimed’, Silvera suggested.

Teams across the world will undoubtedly be throwing themselves into that very task, so we can expect more news on this subject as the year unfolds. If nothing else, the Harvard group have our attention.

Research towards better anodes for sodium batteries, University of Surrey

Argyrios Karatrantos and Dr. Qiong Cai from the Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Surrey, have recently published a paper on the “Effects of pore size and surface charge on Na ion storage in carbon nanopores” in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal, Physical Chemistry, Chemical Physics.

Sodium (Na) ion batteries are under consideration for grid-scale energy storage, as they may offer a low cost and sustainable alternative to their Li-ion counterparts. The challenge is to achieve similar energy densities and speed of charge/discharge. Porous carbons, currently used in Li ion batteries, make good electrodes, as they are cheap to produce, allow ions to move through them and are conductive. When the mobile ions are Na+, instead of Li+, it is important to understand how these interact with the electrode and particularly to see if changing the structure of the electrode can improve the mobility of Na ions and hence the performance of sodium batteries.

In this paper, the researchers use molecular dynamics simulations to examine how the Na ions behave when confined with carbon nanopores, paying particular attention to the effect of pore size and surface charge density. The operating conditions of sodium ion batteries were simulated and the mobility of the Na ions measured. They found that, through electrostatic interactions, more Na ions enter the pores when the surface charge density is higher, sometimes forming multiple layers. Nanopore width was also found to play a role.

The simulation methodology developed here can be applied more widely to different forms of carbon and different solvents, to help researchers design better anodes and estimate cell performance for sodium ion batteries.

Read the full paper here.

DOI: 10.1039/c6cp04611h

Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust seeks partners in energy trial

Swindon-based sustainable energy charity, Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust is looking to partner with organisations trailing close to market household or community scale energy innovations including technology and/or regulation.

Westmill has a current trial involving 48 households and domestically produced PV, and are exploring a potential site for storage adjacent to a wind farm and a solar park that are both community owned.  The ‘households’ involved in the trial include a pub and the local sports pavilion, and all have smart meters installed.

Westmill is keen to talk with anyone who would have a use for such a group of householders for a future trial, or in the storage site. Interested parties should get in touch with Mike Blanch, a founding board member with Westmill, at

BEIS and Ofgem Call for Evidence: ‘Smart, Flexible Energy System’

Opens: 00:00 on Friday 11th November 2016

Closes: 23:59 on Thursday 12th January 2017

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Ofgem issued their much-awaited Call for Evidence today, as part of their commitment to building a 21st century energy infrastructure, incorporating smart technologies for a flexible energy system.

BEIS and Ofgem have been working together to understand how to manage the transition to a smart, flexible energy system and what steps need to be taken to achieve this. Ofgem published a position paper in September 2015: “Making the electricity system more flexible and delivering the benefits for consumers”, which set out Ofgem’s priority areas to ensure that regulation supports an efficient, flexible energy system. In December 2015, BEIS published “Towards a Smart Energy System”, a report setting out how smart, more flexible energy solutions could help them meet the challenges the UK energy system faces as we seek to power our economy and decarbonise cost-effectively.

A flexible energy system offers significant benefits for consumers and the economy, helping us use energy more flexibly and increasing the efficiency of the whole energy system. Over the period to 2050, studies have shown that a flexible energy system could deliver up to £40bn in cumulative net savings by helping us to build less power generation, turn off generation less when it exceeds demand, avoid the high cost of significantly reinforcing our energy networks and reduce the cost of balancing our energy system in real time. This can help to ensure the UK has a secure, affordable and clean energy system now and in the future, while enabling growth in all parts of the country.

Consumers are at the heart of the development of this system, which can give them choice and control over how they use electricity, including any that they generate themselves. Smart energy technology and processes have the potential to deliver lower bills and new services for consumers.

The call for evidence sets out BEIS’ and Ofgem’s intended approach to realising such a system. They invite your views on how to develop our energy system so that it is smart and flexible, while capturing benefits for consumers and businesses. The responses to this document, as well as wider engagement, will help shape a plan that BEIS and Ofgem expect to publish in spring 2017, setting out the specific actions to be taken to remove barriers, improve price signals, catalyse innovation and shape roles and responsibilities.

Responses to this call for evidence should be submitted on the dedicated online platform from 00:00 on 11/11/2016 until 23:59 on 12/01/2017. For any queries, please email or

Last call: Energy and Climate Change select committee calls for energy storage reform

When the Department for Energy and Climate Change was absorbed into the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), one casualty was The Energy and Climate Change select committee. But in their final report before disbanding, the MPs of the committee reiterated the call for regulatory reform in the energy storage field.

Launching the report last week, the Committee Chair Angus MacNeil said,

“The Government needs to tackle the issues making the economics of energy storage and demand side response challenging. We need to learn from California, where strong public financial support and clear legislation have helped develop a storage industry and integrate storage infrastructure into the grid.”

The Committee also put in a plea to not reverse existing energy regulations, which is a real possibility if the UK Government goes through with its Brexit plans.

DECC may be dead in its old form, but at least it leaves behind a clear epitaph – embrace energy storage.

The full report is available at


Dearman’s cold storage technology secures 6 million in Government funding

While a hundred industrial groups vie to build better lithium batteries, Dearman Technologies have taken another path in their energy storage research. Dearman has become known for its ‘cold storage’ Dearman Engine, which uses liquid nitrogen or liquid air as the storage mechanism.

The idea would be familiar to the steam pioneers of the 19th century. High-pressure liquefied air is poured into the engine, where it is then mixed with warm water. The massive expansion that liquids undergo as they evaporate (up to 710 times in the case of liquid nitrogen) drives pistons, as in an old-fashioned steam engine. With only water and air as fuel, the carbon emissions at point-of-use become zero, and the air can be compressed off-site through renewable energy.

The system aims to fill a currently undervalued niche of cold + power. Dearman’s website claims that global demand for cooling is currently responsible for a whopping 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, and their engine has been designed to provide power while also meeting that cooling demand. Already, Dearman is testing a zero-emission transport refrigeration system, currently on trial with Sainsbury’s. Mooted future applications include air-conditioning and auxiliary power units for diesel buses.

The UK Government’s Advanced Propulsion Centre has now expressed some confidence in the engine through an award of £6 million, to help move the Dearman Engine into full commercial development. That funding will be matched by a consortium of Dearman, Hubbard Products, Air Products, Productiv, Wessington Cryogenics and Loughborough University, which will bring the total investment-to-date in the technology up to £15.5 million. Meanwhile, Innovate UK has nominated Dearman for an ‘Innovation Leading to Investment’ award.

To read more about Dearman and their plans, you can visit their website at

Lithium-ion battery recycling ‘not economical’

Last month the International Battery Recycling Congress held a conference in Antwerp, where the subject of lithium-ion recycling was discussed by the experts. Unfortunately, the meeting concluded that recycling batteries for their lithium content is not yet economical. Alain Vassart, secretary general of the European Battery Recycling Association, explained that at only 3% of the total battery material, there is not enough lithium in a standard battery to justify a full recycling process. It would take some level of technological advance to make closed-loop lithium recycling economical, so while recycling continues to be encouraged at the policy level, the economics may continue to be a drag on a greener manufacturing cycle for some time to come.

California passes sweeping energy storage legislation

While the United States federal government dithers, California has steamed ahead with four piece of legislation promoting energy storage. California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bills into law last week, and together they mark a new epoch in Californian energy policy.

  1. AB 2861 aims to solve disputes between storage developers and the utility companies that must give approval before storage can connect to the grid. Previously, these disputes could be protracted and expesnive. Now the Californian Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will create an expert panel to resolve fee disputes within two months.
  2. AB 2868 is more directly interventionist, directing the CPUC to set targets for California’s big three electrical corporations to ‘accelerate widespread deployment of distributed energy storage systems’. The bill aims to enforce another 500 megawatts of storage into the Californian grid, building on a similar 2010 bill which set a 2020 target of 1.325 gigawatts.
  3. AB 33 instructs the CPUC to ‘evaluate and analyze the potential for all types of long-duration bulk energy storage resources to help integrate renewable generation into the electrical grid’.
  4. AB 1637 doubles the CPUC’s budget for a ‘Self-Generation Incentive Program’, adding $249 million for small-scale storage.

The bills are individually small, and build on legislation already passed, but announcing all four in a day is a clear signal that the Californian government intends to build energy storage into its future plans. At a time when other legislatures are struggling to formulate a response to the disruptive potential of storage, California’s experiment will be watched with interest.