U. LEEDS (UK)—A new way to manage short-lived draws on the electricity grid could cut the fuel needed in peak times by as much as 50 percent and would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The amount of electricity drawn from the national grid varies enormously—typically peaking in the early evening for a couple of hours at the end of the work or school day.

Short-lived spikes are also common after major televised sporting events, during commercial breaks, and in the morning hours.

But matching the highs and lows in demand with a steady supply is a major challenge.

Energy companies typically top up a base supply of energy with electricity from power plants that are only switched on to cope with the peaks, but the gas-fired generators used to feed these peaks are notoriously inefficient, expensive to run, and sit idle for long periods of time.

In short, the system wastes both energy and resources.

Yulong Ding, professor of engineering at the University of Leeds, proposes a more environmentally friendly system that would also be cheaper to run: storing excess energy made by a plant supplying the base demand and using this to supply the peaks—as and when they happen.

“This integrated system is truly novel,” Ding says. “Because we are storing the excess energy for later, there is less need to ramp up the output of gas-fired plants whenever a peak in demand is expected, generating electricity that may simply not be used.”

Full details of the system appear in the International Journal of Energy Research.

The key idea is to use excess electricity to run a unit producing liquid nitrogen and oxygen—or cryogen. At times of peak demand, the nitrogen would be boiled—using heat from the environment and waste heat from the power plant. The hot nitrogen gas would then be used to drive a turbine or engine, generating top up electricity.

Meanwhile, the oxygen would be fed to the combustor to mix with the natural gas before it is burned. Burning natural gas in pure oxygen, rather than air, makes the combustion process more efficient and produces less nitrogen oxide. Instead, this oxy-fuel combustion method produces a concentrated stream of carbon dioxide that can be removed easily in solid form as dry ice.

Using such an integrated system, the amount of fuel needed to cater for peak demand could be cut by as much as 50 percent, Ding says.

Greenhouse gas emissions would be lower too, thanks to the greatly reduced nitrogen oxide emissions and the capture of carbon dioxide gas in solid form for storage.

“This is a much better way of dealing with these peaks in demand for electricity. Greenhouse gas emissions would also be cut considerably because the carbon dioxide generated in the gas-fired turbine would be captured in solid form.

“On paper, the efficiency savings are considerable. We now need to test the system in practice,” Ding says.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences contributed to the study, which also received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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