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Harwell Campus provides testbed demonstrating energy storage innovations

Interreg STEPS programme, Faraday Institution and Cambridge Cleantech enable collaboration of three SMEs.

Three SMEs, AMTE Power, Brill Power and Starke Energy, are joining forces to demonstrate new energy storage product innovations at a commercial-scale testbed at Harwell Campus, bringing their solutions one stage closer to market.

Three new technologies will be proved at a battery energy storage system to be integrated with the Science and Engineering Facilities Council’s (STFC) solar array at the South Car Park at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. The testbed will demonstrate AMTE’s sodium-ion battery module using Brill Power’s battery intelligence technology and Stark Energy’s energy management system, which links stored energy into the electricity grid and markets. This is the first time that these technologies are being deployed in a commercially relevant project.

Emma Southwell-Sander from STFC and Manager of the Energy Tech Cluster at Harwell Campus commented: “STFC is delighted to host and support the project via site access, installation, operational access and maintenance. This is a prime example of how, through the Net Zero Living Laboratory, Harwell’s EnergyTec cluster is facilitating access to young innovative businesses to a wealth of resources to supercharge their route to market.”

Energy storage installations around the world are expected to reach a cumulative 1,028GWh[1] by the end of 2030, twenty times larger than seen in 2021. In the UK, energy storage projects (including but not just batteries) that have planning approved will reach a cumulative 10.5GW capacity.

This boom in the energy storage market is critical to support the growing demand for renewable solar and wind-led energy. Use of energy storage will reduce peak power loads on the grid, which will be increasingly important as more electric vehicles are used. There is a need for large scale investment within the energy storage market and small scale, but commercially relevant tests such as this one at Harwell will help European SMEs access this sizeable market.

The energy storage system at Harwell is expected to be in operation from March 2022 and will run for a minimum of 12 months.

As a benchmark, in the project’s first phase AMTE Power will deploy lithium-ion cells before switching to use the company’s Ultra Safe sodium-ion cell technology in the second demonstration phase of the project.

John Fox, Director of Business Development, AMTE Power commented, “The ability to test our new products in a commercial operating environment is invaluable. Having access to the Harwell site will accelerate the time to market for our new energy storage products incorporating our Ultra Safe cells.”

Sodium-ion batteries offer an alternative to lithium-ion in those markets where cost is more important than weight or performance: particularly energy storage, network resilience and energy in remote locations. Improvements in competitiveness of energy storage technologies will accelerate the uptake of small-scale renewable sources of electricity generation. The commercialisation of sodium-ion technology lags behind Li-ion but offers significant advantages that makes it suited as a solution for static energy storage applications; it uses earth-abundant elements, has long cycle life and intrinsic safety advantages.

Brill Power’s battery intelligence technology will be deployed to ensure optimal battery usage, lifetime, performance, and safety. Real-world data and operating parameters will be collected, which will support further optimisation of the technologies deployed in the demonstrator. Brill Power launched its first battery management system (BMS) product in 2021, which is supported by its proprietary battery monitoring and analytics software platform.

“Brill Power’s battery intelligence technology can improve all aspects of advanced battery systems, including performance, cost of ownership, reliability and safety,” commented Brill Power’s CEO and Co-founder Christoph Birkl. “This testbed will enable us to integrate our technology with other cutting-edge battery innovations and collect real-world data on a commercially relevant site”.

Starke Energy’s energy management system will integrate the battery system with the local energy network at Harwell. The system, using artificial intelligence, learns how much energy is being produced by renewable sources, and how much is being used to optimise the storage and release of energy across a network of connected intelligent batteries.

The project is part of the Interreg North-West Europe STEPS programme that is supporting 40 businesses through, in its first phase, a competitive product enhancement voucher programme – valued at €12.5k each. AMTE, Brill and Starke were all awarded first phase vouchers in March 2021 and each have benefited from expert support provided by UK STEPS business partner, Cambridge Cleantech, and knowledge partner, the Faraday Institution. This has included tailored testing, introductions to potential end-users and market knowledge to strengthen the competitiveness of their products.

As part of the second phase of STEPS, the collaborating partners have been awarded €50k to contribute to the costs of installation of their prototype technology at the Harwell testbed. This is one of 20 testbeds being developed throughout North-West Europe by a variety of SMEs, including a second in the UK at Allia’s Future Business Centre in Cambridge, which will use a battery system from Aceleron, another UK-based SME involved in the STEPS programme.

Professor Pam Thomas, CEO, Faraday Institution commented, “We are excited to be working with the North-West Europe STEPS programme to enable SMEs to demonstrate their latest energy storage technologies in a commercially-relevant setting. This is another example of the Faraday Institution acting as convener for partnerships between UK industry, academia and funding organisations as a route to commercialise breakthrough science and engineering to maximise economic value.”

Sam Goodall, Head of International Projects, Cambridge Cleantech added, “The three UK SMEs who are part of this programme have technologies that can revolutionise the energy storage sector, from AMTE’s Na-ion batteries which remove the need for mineral extraction, Brill Power who make batteries last longer and be more efficient, and Starke’s energy management system which helps optimise the use of the energy and how it is sold together based on AI and IoT. The STEPS Business Support programme can help these SMEs accelerate market readiness and Cambridge Cleantech is proud to be associated with it.”

[1] BloombergNEF’s 2021 Global Energy Storage Outlook