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 consultancy team work with clients to assess the opportunity for hydrogen production and use.
See below for an over view of some of these projects.
Huntly Hydrogen – Huntly is strategically located on a local major transport route and the key link between Aberdeen and Inverness. Locogen are providing core technical support for the development of renewable hydrogen production, storage and supply (primarily for road transport) using existing and planned local renewable generation technologies. The project is now in Stage 2 of works including securing Heads of Terms with anchor customers (Aberdeenshire Council’s nearby main vehicle depot likely to be a core consumer) as well developing the business case further to meet wider regional demand in the future. Expected scale of development is based on a 1-4MW electrolyser.
Shetland hydrogen – Locogen are technical leads for a local subsidy free wind energy project as one of three pilot renewable hydrogen production projects on the Shetland Isles. The project includes working with Shetland Isles Council 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.
Benbecula Distillery – Traditionally, distilleries power the distillation process by raising steam through burning fuel oil or natural gas. This distillery retained Locogen to assess the distillery being run by heating of a thermal oil, rather than conventional steam, using the indirect burning of hydrogen to create a safer operational environment and a cheaper solution than direct combustion.
Aberdeen City Council – They are developing their hydrogen transport infrastructure, with a fleet of fuel cell buses, and refuelling stations. The Council commissioned Locogen 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.
Arbikie Highland Estate Distillery – Through the Green Distilleries programme Locogen are assessing the feasibility of switching from fuel oil to hydrogen burners, providing direct process heat for distillation. This direct combustion of hydrogen in burners requires the retrofit of the distillery fuel distribution and boiler systems. The option of creating hydrogen offsite and transporting onsite is also being investigated.