Advanced hybrid thermochemical-compression seasonal solar energy storage and heat pump system (Solar S&HP)

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Engineering


Solar energy can provide both electricity and heat without greenhouse gas emissions. The amount of solar radiation incident on the roof of a typical UK home still exceeds its heating demand over the year. However, there is only 1% of renewable heat from solar currently exploited in the UK. The paramount reason for that is the seasonal mismatch between heating demand and solar thermal energy availability and the lack of extensive deployment of thermal energy storage in the UK. Secondly, because of relatively weak solar radiation being far away from equator leads to relatively low temperature heat using the existing solar thermal collectors, particularly during periods outside summer. In this case, it is imperative to develop a seasonal solar energy storage that can effectively store abundant but relatively low temperature solar heat in summer and utilise this at the desired temperature for space and hot water heating in winter, so that 100% solar fraction can be used for space and hot water 'zero-carbon' heating.
Thermochemical sorption energy storage technology offers higher energy density with minimum loss due to the temperature-independent means of storage, storing energy as chemical potential. However, its desorption temperature (i.e. temperature of the energy charging process) is relatively high, which makes it problematic to recover solar energy in high-latitude regions like the UK when using the most mature and economic solar thermal collector technology (flat-plate or evacuated tube type). Therefore, an advanced hybrid thermochemical sorption and vapour compression processes is proposed in this project, the integration of the electric-driven compressor, using a small amount of electricity input, enables a large amount of low or ultra-low temperature solar heat (<50 degC) to be efficiently used for thermochemical desorption, leading to enhance the efficiency, capability and flexibility of solar energy storage and heat pumping (Solar S&HP). Since such a hybrid system utilises thermal energy and electric energy simultaneously, it is a win-win solution when it couples with a solar hybrid thermal-photovoltaic (T-PV) collector. The solar T/PV collector supplies the hybrid storage system with solar heat and electricity, whilst the timely extraction of solar heat from the hybrid solar T-PV collector also allows the PV cell to operate at a lower temperature to increase its electrical conversion efficiency, leading to substantially improved overall solar energy conversion efficiency. Some other detailed advantages of the proposed system are, (1) the quality (thermal only) and quantity of different energy inputs (both thermal and electrical) can be adjusted to complement each other whilst storing energy so as to cope with highly variable weather conditions whilst maximising solar energy conversion. Even if solar electricity is not available, electricity from the grid in summer can be used, which has a ~15% lower carbon intensity than in winter. (2) The hybrid thermochemical cycle has a lower desorption temperature which reduces sensible heat loss from the solid sorbent and metallic reactor during the energy storage process which further increases the overall energy efficiency of storage system. (3) During thermal discharging in winter: (a) primary energy consumption for heating can be eliminated, and (b) the collective effect of thermal-driven and electric-driven heat pump processes can be used in extremely cold weather conditions. The whole SSTES system can provide heating at near zero carbon intensity, its carbon emission is approximately 92% and 85% lower comparing to gas boiler and electric heat pump technology, as revealed by the preliminary calculation results.

Planned Impact

The success of this project will eventually establish a reliable technology to achieve sustainable and 'zero carbon' heating technology. The transformative nature of the proposed technology will benefit across multiply sectors and potentially transform the landscape of the UK heat market through its interdisciplinary research and significant stakeholder engagement with project partners, e.g. the world's largest electric heating manufacturer Glen Dimplex, the internationally leading buildings and environment consultancy Arup and the Local Authority Eastbourne Borough Council who is pioneering local energy systems' ownership and management. Industrial forums and Impact Event will be organised to disseminate research outcomes and promote commercialisation of the technology. This will be under the support of Durham Energy Institute(DEI) and will be used by Project Management Committee to engage with relevant industry partners and other stakeholders to provide overarching guidance, valuable technical information and exploitation.
1) Government and policy makers: These beneficiaries need economically and technically viable solutions for mitigating carbon emissions whilst safeguarding energy security, industrial productivity and competitiveness, and jobs in the UK. Evidence produced in this project will support the development of policies which could result in greater use of renewable energy for energy demand reduction.
2) Society and environment: Technology proposed in this project will support the UK achieving its legally binding carbon emission reduction target. Ultimately, consumers will benefit from a marketplace which includes low cost, low carbon and low fuel consumption heating technologies.
3) UK industries: Research results will have a direct, immediate relevance to a range of UK industries who are working on energy storage, domestic heating and solar thermal technologies. In terms of market value, the upstream fuel production sector is by far the largest component of the UK's heat sector. As the leading solution to realise substituting for fossil fuel in the heat sector with renewable energy, that implicates huge market potential and investment opportunities for renewable energy. The new business opportunities arisen from this project will result in a positive industrial impact financially, commercially and environmentally.
4) The national and international research community will benefit from this project through the planed journal publications, and these benefits will be enhanced via close engagement with relevant EPSRC networks and planned attendance at leading academic conferences and workshops.
5) PRDAs and PhD students: Activities associated with exploitation, application, communication, engagement and collaboration will benefit the project's PRDAs and relevant PhD students by developing their capacity and skills and supporting their development towards becoming independent researchers. In close collaboration with all project partners, the researchers will be also given the opportunity to understand the current and future challenges of low carbon heating, and to develop specialist knowledge and skills in the multidisciplinary research fields, which expands across mechanical, chemical, control technologies and economic-environmental appraise.
Description Geothermal Energy from Mines and Solar-Geothermal heat (GEMS)
Amount £1,421,760 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V042564/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2021 
End 08/2024
Description Decarbonising Heat Knowledge Share and Networking 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact More than 50 academics attended this workshop to discuss 'decarbonisation of heating and cooling'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Durham Energy Institute Westminster Heating and Cooling Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The technology developed in this project was presented in a event organised by Durham Energy Institute in Portcullis House, Westminster. MPs were invited and came to attend this event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
Description UK-China energy storage workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Research dissemination between UK and China academics on the topic of 'Thermochemcial energy storage'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022