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Innovative and green - hydrogen system sets the standard for powering isolated territories

Posted on 20/08/2018

Renewable electricity powers electrolysers to produce hydrogen which can be stored, transported and utilised for heat, power and mobility.

KTN’s Complex Systems team has worked with a wide range of companies to help them combine systems and signpost them to Innovate UK funding. Some of the most notable examples have been highlighted in a series of case studies which will be published over the next ten days.

Complex Systems covers the key application areas of space, robotics and autonomous systems, data analytics and defence and security, with a focus on engineering best practice for systems, intelligent applications and large-scale infrastructure. KTN’s interests are in the scalability, adaptability, resilience and security of these systems.

Update: this story has now been featured on the BBC News website!

Renewable electricity is being used by electrolysers to produce hydrogen which can be stored, transported and utilised for heat, power and mobility on land and at sea.

The Orkney Islands has provided the perfect testing ground for a fully integrated model of hydrogen production, storage, transportation and utilisation. The innovative project has brought together collaborators from here and oversees to trial the green technologies in this isolated, remote and often hostile environment, where local grid capacity is restricted, to explore the feasibility of a hydrogen economy in other parts of the world.

By testing configurations of the system, the project team can show how the hydrogen model can be replicated in other isolated, off-grid communities, including in Sub Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world.

Most importantly, the technology will have the potential to reduce reliance on imported fuels, reduce carbon emissions, and in future, as the technology develops, to reduce energy costs.

Zero carbon energy

The project, Powering Isolated Territories with Hydrogen Energy Systems, (PITCHES) received funding from Innovate UK and builds on the Orkney Surf ‘n’ Turf initiative and the foundations of the BIG HIT project.

Renewable electricity generated on the islands of Eday and Shainsay is currently used by two proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers to produce hydrogen by electrolysis of water. This hydrogen is then stored as high-pressure gas in tube trailers, which can be transported for later use.

The hydrogen acts as an energy-storage medium, which is then converted back into heat and power, to be used in buildings in Kirkwall harbour, a marina and 3 ferries, as well as to operate zero-emission hydrogen vehicles including a fleet of fuel cell electric vehicles.

Kris Hyde works for ITM Power and as the PITCHES Project Manager is responsible for site works and equipment. He reports:

“Most importantly, our work shows that hydrogen-based energy systems have the potential to reduce reliance on imported fuels and reduce carbon emissions. The aim of the PITCHES project is to demonstrate that existing hydrogen technologies can be used to develop a new energy system to meet the transport, electricity and heating needs of remote communities, specifically at the moment in Malawi, where the electricity grid is week, and typically the infrastructure is very poor. The hydrogen model is perfect for this as it represents a sustainable, and incredibly flexible source of energy. Our project is unique in exploring this third world aspect.”

Technology ‘firsts’ for the UK

As a whole, the project has overcome many hurdles, including major issues with funding and logistics. Working in a remote location inevitably poses more problems in terms of transport and travel for contractors and equipment. Even getting hold of simple tools can be difficult when there are no shops and a lack of the infrastructure that we’re familiar with in the UK. Very often the weather can cause problems too, making it difficult or impossible to continue aspects of the project that will then cause frustrating delays.

But despite these difficulties, the project has experienced considerable success and has been able to claim several ‘firsts’ for the UK. The project addresses a number of operational and development challenges including the logistical and regulatory aspects for transport of hydrogen fuel between islands, and the orientation and familiarisation with new hydrogen building and transport technologies.

Kris reports:

“We’re really pleased that this project has enabled us to demonstrate how technologies can be used for the first time, as now they can be replicated elsewhere. This is actually the first time a tidal turbine and a wind turbine have been connected to an electrolyser. It’s also the first time that pure hydrogen heating has been used in buildings.

Further to that, our tube trailers were bespoke to this project, designed specifically for our needs with lightweight composite tubing. The pre-existing designs of industrial hydrogen trailers were too large and too heavy to use on narrow rural roads such as Orkney’s more remote islands, and those you’d expect to find in other isolated territories. It’s the first time such tube trailers have gone through UK ADR approval, which is a specialist test for vehicles carrying dangerous or hazardous goods in bulk by road. We were also granted exemption for the first time to operate hydrogen tube trailers on a UK passenger ferry. And finally, it’s the first UK course that covers hydrogen familiarisation for Mariners.”

Collaborative working secures vital funding

As the project lead, ITM Power provided the project’s electrolysers, the hydrogen refuelling station and will continue to conduct much of the safety analysis. As an energy storage and clean fuel company it is committed to clean sustainable energy solutions based on water electrolysis using Polymer-Electrolyte-Membrane (PEM) technologies. It manufactures integrated hydrogen energy solutions to enhance the utilisation of renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted. The solutions are rapid response and high pressure, meeting the requirements for grid balancing and energy storage services, and for the production of clean fuel for transport, renewable heat and chemicals. Kris adds:

“One of the main issues throughout the project was funding, but with our collaborative approach we were able to secure a substantial input from Innovate UK. Together with European Marine Energy Centre, Community Energy Scotland, Community Energy Malawi, Overseas Development International and Shapinsay Development Trust, we were awarded enough funding to complete the PITCHES work, which was vital for the part of the project that was looking at the feasibility of replicating this model in other remote or isolated territories.”

Kris concludes:

“In future, as the technology develops, not only will it reduce reliance on imported fuels and reduce carbon emissions, but as the technology develops, it will reduce energy costs too, representing an excellent return on investment.”

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