Hydrogen gas will become one of the ‘wonder fuels’ driving Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) of the future, however the production of hydrogen demands a lot of electricity to create the hydrolysis process which produces the gas. Exactly ‘how’ this electricity is generated concerns all fuel cell developers, because it needs to be produced by renewable and sustainable means in order to be cost-efficient and, more importantly carbon neutral.
Although scientists recognize the importance of hydrogen in powering vehicles driven by fuel cells; and the technology to produce hydrogen is a well-known and mature process, it is the ‘clean’ production of electricity for hydrolysis which is the holy grail for developers of automotive fuel cells.
Consequently there are many companies around the world engaged on a diverse range of both large and small experimental processes aimed at creating and capturing hydrogen gas from renewable sources.
One such company, which the UK daily media has sadly avoided publicising, is ITM POWER founded and based in the UK. ITM Power has partnered a great deal of research, and production trials linked with automotive fuel cells and has powered a number of vehicles running on ‘clean’ hydrogen.
The major limitation is ‘how much’ hydrogen can be produced from clean energy? And so far producing large volumes of 'clean' hydrogen gas to power millions of cars is commercially unsustainable.
Whilst ITM Power has developed extensive technology for automotive applications, its major success has been in the design and manufacture of stand-alone POLYMER ELECTROLYTE MEMBRANE (PEM) electrolysers. The PEM is part of a total system aimed at capturing energy and producing hydrogen by an integrated compression method and storage.
Recently ITM Power won a tender to provide such a system to the European Marine Energy Centre site on the island of Eday in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. The EMEC has a test site on Eday capturing and storing power from wave energy.
The 0.5MW electrolyser will be used to absorb excess power generated by the tidal turbines testing at EMEC.
The hydrogen gas created from the energy from the turbines will be compressed and stored, with some of
the gas being used in (an optional) hydrogen fuel cell to provide backup power
to critical EMEC systems. The remainder of the hydrogen gas will be used
off-site by a further project being developed separately which plans to absorb
output of a local community wind turbine operated by Eday Renewable Energy Ltd.
|Tidal Turbine Generator|
The PEM system is housed in a standard 20ft x 10ft ISO shipping container!
ITM Power says this is a major deployment of ITM Power technology in an innovative way, to address the shortcomings of the conventional local power grid, by pioneering the production of hydrogen fuel from wave energy, and capturing surplus energy to be used on Eday, without having to rely on an inadequate grid.
This news may not be as sexy as announcing a new Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle to solve personal mobility issues, but it certainly may help power a range of innovative solutions using stationary PEMs to create and capture hydrogen gas for industrial and residential electricity needs – and every ‘clean and sustainable’ way to create ‘clean’ electricity has to get my vote!