Recent theoretical studies have predicted that adiabatic compressed air energy storage (ACAES) can be an effective energy storage option in the future. However, major experimental projects and commercial ventures have so far failed to yield any viable prototypes. Here we explore the underlying reasons behind this failure. By developing an analytical idealized model of a typical ACAES design, we derive a design-dependent efficiency limit for a system with hypothetical, perfect components. This previously overlooked limit, equal to 93.6% under continuous cycling for a typical design, arises from irreversibility associated with the transient pressure in the system. Although the exact value is design dependent, the methodology we present for finding the limit is applicable for a wide range of designs. Turning to real systems, the limit alone does not fully explain the failure of practical ACAES research. However, reviewing the available evidence alongside our analytical model, we reason that underestimation of the system complexity, difficulty with the integration of off-the-shelf components, and a number of misleading performance claims are the primary reasons hindering ACAES development.
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