Progress and Prospects of Thermo-Mechanical Energy Storage - A Critical Review

Andreas Olympios, Joshua McTigue, Pau Antunez, Alessio Tafone, Alessandro Romagnoli, Yongliang Li, Yulong Ding, Wolf-Dieter Steinmann, Liang Wang, Haisheng Chen, Christos Markides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The share of electricity generated by intermittent renewable energy sources is increasing (now at 26% of global electricity generation) and the requirements of affordable, reliable and secure energy supply designate grid-scale storage as an imperative component of most energy transition pathways. The most widely deployed bulk energy storage solution is pumped-hydro energy storage (PHES), however, this technology is geographically constrained. Alternatively, flow batteries are location independent and have higher energy densities than PHES, but remain associated with high costs and low lifetimes, which highlights the importance of developing and utilizing additional larger-scale, longer-duration and long-lifetime energy storage alternatives. In this paper, we review a class of promising bulk energy storage technologies based on thermo-mechanical principles, which includes: compressed-air energy storage (CAES), liquid-air energy storage (LAES) and pumped-thermal electricity storage (PTES). The thermodynamic principles upon which these thermo-mechanical energy storage (TMES) technologies are based are discussed and a synopsis of recent progress in their development is presented, assessing their ability to provide reliable and cost-effective solutions. The current performance and future prospects of TMES systems are examined within a unified framework and a thermoeconomic analysis is conducted to explore their competitiveness relative to each other as well as when compared to PHES and flow battery systems. This includes carefully selected thermodynamic and economic methodologies for estimating the component costs of each configuration in order to provide a detailed and fair comparison at various system sizes. The analysis reveals that the technical and economic characteristics of TMES systems are such that, especially at higher discharge power ratings and longer discharge durations, they can offer promising performance (round-trip efficiencies higher than 60%) along with high lifetimes (> 30 years), low specific costs (often below 100 $/kWh), low ecological footprints and unique sector-coupling features compared to other storage options. TMES systems have significant potential for further progress and the thermoeconomic comparisons in this paper can be used as a benchmark for their future evolution.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages45
JournalProgress in Energy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5700-76704


  • compressed-air energy storage
  • liquid-air energy storage
  • pumped-thermal electricity storage
  • thermo-mechanical energy storage


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