Huge potential and huge challenges
Hydrogen represents an intriguing, but also challenging, contributor to a zero-carbon future. It is the simplest and most common element in the universe but typically doesn’t exist on its own in nature and must therefore be extracted from other compounds.
Today, this is mostly achieved by steam methane reformation, where steam reacts with methane gas to produce hydrogen. However, this process also produces CO2. Hydrogen produced in this way is known as ‘blue hydrogen’.
Hydrogen can also be produced by splitting water molecules in a process called electrolysis. This production method results in ‘green hydrogen’. When then used in a fuel cell, hydrogen produces only water and heat as by products to the generated electricity.
Hydrogen should be thought of as an energy carrier, rather than an energy source. As such, it can store or deliver a huge amount of clean energy. There are, however, many obstacles to overcome if we are to utilise hydrogen on a significant scale.
Challenges of harnessing hydrogen
Firstly, hydrogen is expensive to produce and the most common production techniques use coal, oil or natural gas, with CO2 as a by-product. Electrolysis has no such by-products but it is also expensive and requires more electricity to produce that it will generate in a fuel cell.
Hydrogen is also extremely diffuse and easily leaks, so storage and transport are also complex and expensive. The gas is also extremely flammable when mixed with air, so such like are potentially extremely hazardous.
Advantages of hydrogen
Clearly, the use of hydrogen presents significant challenges but it has advantages that are unmatched by other potential energy sources.
Firstly, the supply of hydrogen is effectively infinite. If we develop technologies to use it, it will never run out. It can also be produced locally to demand, be transported or piped to where it is needed. It is clean, non-toxic and efficient.
When wind farms produce more electricity than is needed by the grid, they are curtailed.
Excess electricity produced by such wind farms could instead be used to produce hydrogen, which could dramatically alter the economics of electrolysis and produce clean, storable energy.
Our hydrogen services
Our hydrogen team provides consulting services to renewable asset owners, businesses and organisations looking to understand the benefits that zero carbon hydrogen can offer.
We have an excellent success rate with applying for government funding to support early-stage feasibility studies which may then progress towards detailed feasibility and business case stages.
We have a broad knowledge of product and service suppliers in the green hydrogen space and can help manage procurement processes to appoint suppliers and contractors. In the role of client engineer we can also oversee the development of operational projects based on direct experience of technology integration and project delivery of green hydrogen production supported by wind power.
See below for an overview of some of these projects.
Industrial Heat and decarbonisation
The Green Distilleries programme awarded Locogen funding to assess the feasibility of switching from fuel oil to hydrogen burners, providing direct process heat for distillation, for Arbikie Distillery in Angus. A wind turbine will provide power for an electrolyser to produce green hydrogen onsite to displace oil. The wind turbine, boiler and burner are installed and hydrogen is due for production Sep 2023.
We have also undertaken numerous studies for other distilleries, including Benbecula Distillery to assess the feasibility of using a thermal oil rather than conventional steam for heat through the indirect burning of hydrogen.
Hard-to-abate heavy vehicle transportation
Support from the Scottish Enterprise Zero Emissions Heavy Duty Vehicles Fund, Locogen undertook a feasibility study to investigate the potential to produce green hydrogen to act as a zero emission fuel for a term distribution company.
We have also worked with Aberdeen City Council who are developing their hydrogen transport infrastructure with a fleet of fuel cell buses and refuelling stations. Locogen was commissioned to consider the feasibility of using renewable energy generating technologies to feed electricity directly to the refuelling sites to reduce the cost and associated carbon emissions of this hydrogen production.
On-site hydrogen for renewable assets
Locogen was commissioned by Shetland Islands Council as technical leads for a pilot wind project to support the development and delivery of the Shetland Clean Energy Project which looks to transform the fuel oil dependant Islands into a world leading hydrogen fuel economy.
Over the next year Locogen will be working with a number of wind and solar asset owners on funded feasibility projects to explore how green hydrogen production can help to optimise the value of their operations.
Regional hydrogen hubs
Currently, Locogen is investigating the feasibility of local hydrogen hubs which will bring together, industry, stakeholders, businesses and local authorities to deliver and operate a local energy system that meets the needs of the local community.