Guest Blog: Hassan Agalit, KTP Research Associate, Birmingham Energy Institute at the University of Birmingham

An innovative project by AMP and The University of Birmingham aims to design, build and implement a thermal energy storage system, using a quarter of the space of conventional systems.

Having won funding from Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme, Research Associate Hassan Agalit has been tasked with working in the lab to bring the project to life.

Hassan is working with both organisations to develop a real-life application of a study conducted by the University, designing novel Phase Change Material (PCM) to store waste heat in a compact thermal energy storage system. The project will be piloted at an AMP Clean Energy Urban Reserve flexible energy facility.

AMP interviewed Research Associate Hassan Agalit to find out how he is getting on after almost one year in his role.

Tell us about your career journey which has led you to this role

My background is in industrial process engineering and I have a PhD in high temperature thermal energy storage technologies. I completed my academic studies in my home country of Morocco where I worked for almost three years as a researcher in the field of industrial process and thermal energy storage for solar energy technologies.

I joined the KTP project in March 2019, but I was only able to come to England and work in the University last July due to the travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  It was very exciting to finally be at the University working in such a great environment with many esteemed colleagues.

What is ground-breaking about this project?

We are taking a ground-breaking approach to create cost-effective heat storage technology, recovering waste heat from AMP’s Urban Reserve facilities. This waste heat can be used to supply low carbon heat to nearby buildings at lower cost and will be a quarter of the size of conventional heat storage systems.

Once the demonstration of the technology at a commercial scale is achieved, the use of the technology could be generalised to other industries with similar waste heat recovery needs.

This project could create a new market for heat storage in the UK, which could really help the UK’s decarbonisation targets.

 Why is this project so important to the UK’s net zero goals?

To achieve net zero by 2050, the renewables share in the UK energy mix is expected to increase dramatically. Decentralised flexible electricity plants, such as Urban Reserve facilities, play a crucial role in ensuring a stable generation of electricity during peak demand hours. The energy efficiency of these plants is around 43%, and the successful realisation of the KTP project is estimated to increase this value to around 90% by capturing its waste heat into a novel compact storage system.

This project could help the UK develop a new heat storage market which would contribute directly to the achievement of the UK’s net zero goals.

How are you managing to cope with COVID-19 restrictions while working on the project?

Initially we had to alter plans for when I was due to start working in England due to the pandemic. We rejigged the programme so that I started in Morocco on the theoretical research and modelling side. I came to work at the University in July 2020, and it was great to get into the lab and work on the test rig to test and assess the developed phase change materials.

We are still able to work with others in the lab in a COVID secure way, but everything has to be planned out far more than it would have been if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic. Thanks to the flexible nature of Innovate UK as well as the support of the project management team, the project has been updated accordingly and we have kept it on track.

The aim of the KTP programme is to help transfer knowledge from academia to industry.  How do you feel this is going?

I am honoured and happy to be part of such an interesting scheme, which approaches and joins up two different worlds – research and industry. The KTP programme has brought together two excellent entities in their corresponding fields to tackle a real industrial problem.

In this project, I play the role of knowledge carrier between the University and AMP. Both parties have taken an enthusiastic and open-minded approach to the project, which has been really beneficial to me. So far, we have faced many exciting challenges to scale up the expertise of the University into the real world and we continue to tackle those.

Are you looking forward to seeing your research efforts being turned into a working pilot system?  

Of course, as a researcher in this field for almost 7 years, it is a great pleasure to be working alongside the University of Birmingham and AMP. I am eager to demonstrate the technology and see the impact of our joined-up work translated into real-world benefits.

We are due to complete the project in March 2022 and the next big milestone will be piloting the technology at an AMP Urban Reserve site in late 2021 to allow a period of measurement and performance validation prior to the project completion. That will be a very exciting day for everyone involved, and will mark the point of moving the project from theory to practice in the industrial world.