6: INSTANT POWER
You can often find Professor Yulong Ding at Birmingham University’s School of Chemical Engineering, where he’s spent a large part of the last decade investigating the possibilities of liquid air – ‘the big story’ as he calls it. Birmingham is the latest in a long line of academic homes for one of the world’s most published scientists. Professor Ding is right up there – a research celebrity of sorts.
‘So, one day in 2005 I’m sat in my office and Toby Peters comes in and starts talking about a man called Peter Dearman …’
If you fancy a bracing walk and happen to be in north-west Wales, I recommend taking a steep hike up Elidir Fawr. The best part of a kilometre high, it may be one of the lesser known mountains in Snowdonia, but to me it’s the most interesting – because as well as being a mountain, it is also one of the world’s largest batteries. If the UK suddenly needs some extra power, the water previously pumped in to fill the reservoir at the top of the mountain can be released, passing through Europe’s largest man-made cavern (known as ‘the concert hall’ and big enough to house St. Paul’s Cathedral) that contains six enormous turbines. Up to 7 million cubic metres of water gush through these gargantuan machines generating an impressive 1,650 Megawatts of power for up to five hours straight. Time from a standing start to peak output? About 16 seconds.
‘Electric Mountain’ under construction (Picture: First Hydro Company).
We leave the office, passing a number of laboratories in which the odd researcher is asleep at their desks (they obviously work them hard in Birmingham) and through some double doors taking us outside, where I find myself looking at four shipping containers and a couple of huge gas storage tanks linked by a maze of ducting. Thee whole affair is the size of a large detached house.
‘This is it?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ says Yulong. ‘This took about ten years of my life, and I’m very proud of it.’