The renewable hydrogen research

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Abstract/Executive summary

This report showcases a concise description of the University of Glamorgan's renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre which includes its history and the technology employed at the demonstration centre.

Hydrogen if produced renewably can help to solve the energy problems of the 21st Century, providing a carbon-free fuel as it is increasingly seen as the versatile fuel of the future, with the potential to reinstate fossil fuels.

The Renewable Hydrogen Research and Demonstration Centre, reflects the viability of producing hydrogen from a range of indigenous renewable energy sources and evaluate the benefits of using hydrogen as an energy storage medium for these intermittent renewable.

In this report, a comparative assessment of the technology used at the centre compared to other potential energy uses for renewable electricity was carried out as well as a comparison of the technology used at the renewable hydrogen research centre with another renewable hydrogen project.

This report aims to capture the current status, key technologies, challenges and benefits of the centre towards achieving the sustainable energy vision of the future.

Background of hydrogen production from electrolysis via renewable electricity

Hydrogen generation can be achieved via electrolysis of an aqueous solution using renewable electricity. This process is done by passing the renewably generated electric current through water. An electrolyser separates the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms (figure 1 below shows the electrolysis process). Water serves as a critical component of this system and it is used as a feedstock from which hydrogen is extracted through the process of electrolysis.

An electrolyte such as potassium hydroxide (KOH) is added which makes the water a better conductor of electricity and also increases the number of ions present in the water. The electrolyser consists of the anode and the cathode. At the cathode, an electron is added to a water molecule which causes it to split into hydrogen atom (H) and hydroxide ion (OH­). Two hydrogen atoms made in this process will bond to form the hydrogen gas. (Figure 2 below shows the solar hydrogen production process). The negatively charged hydroxide ion (OH-) will move across through a semi-permeable membrane to the anode where it losses electrons and splits into oxygen and hydrogen without charges bonding together to form water. This leaves one oxygen atom out which will bond with another to form oxygen gas (O2). In electrolysis, the input is water and electricity and the outputs are hydrogen, oxygen and heat.

Description of the Renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre

The use of hydrogen as a renewable source of fuel came a step closer on the 9th of October 2008 with the opening of the revolutionary hydrogen energy research and demonstration centre by the University of Glamorgan. The centre which is based at the Baglan energy park cost £2.2 million and it demonstrates the viability and safety of the production of hydrogen from renewable sources in Wales [14].

Initially, about £1.5 million pounds was proposed for the project but in the end a total of £2.2 million was used with £1 million funded by the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) [14] and the remaining by the University of Glamorgan. In June 2008, the ERDF funding finished but the University of Glamorgan guaranteed the remaining funding of the project. The building of the centre was also supported by the Neath port Talbot council and the Welsh Assembly Government. The centre which is a part of the faculty of health, sport and science is a world leading research and demonstration centre that integrates renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar photovoltaic with hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. It enables further research and development of fuel cell applications, hydrogen vehicles and overall hydrogen energy systems as it is seen as a platform for new business developments [14]. The centre is a part of the Sustainable Environment Research Centre (SERC) which is one of the University's established research groups. This group is an interdisciplinary group, comprised of staffs drawn from the University's faculty of health, sport and science and advanced technology.

The staff of the hydrogen research centre are intellectuals with broad range of proficiency in research, development and business both academic and industrial settings.

Due to the significance of the centre being recognised by Nissan Motor company, the brought the hydrogen powered vehicle "Nissan FCV X Trail" to Wales for the first time at the launch of the centre [14] (see figure 3 below showing the vehicle and the members of staff of the centre).

The aim of the centre is to develop a series of collaborative projects between the University of Glamorgan and other academic and industrial partners [13]. One of the major functions of the hydrogen centre is to boost the awareness of hydrogen as a clean and sustainable energy carrier, with the potential to overcome the dependence on fossil fuels. There are two buildings at the centre;

In the 2-storey half of the building, the space on the first floor is used as a research office space while the ground floor is used for exhibition and conferences. It occupies up to 50 people [5]. The other half of the building which is a single storey is for the hydrogen generating equipments (see figure 4 below showing a view of the centre).

The centre also host a variety of hydrogen vehicle research (see figure 5 below showing the hydrogen powered vehicle) and development activities which includes research into hydrogen internal combustion engines. In other to enable the research being conducted, a hydrogen test engine is installed at the hydrogen centre.

History of the hydrogen research and development centre

The site on which the renewable hydrogen research centre was located used to be a BP chemical plant site until it was closed in the end of 2004 due to the review of the company's business strategy [1] (figure 6 below shows an overview of the BP chemical plant in Baglan). It marked the end of over 40 years of petrochemical manufacturing at the site and lead to the loss of 600 jobs; 350 from BP chemicals and 250 from contractors [2].

The location of the centre at Baglan was due to the fact that there was not enough land in the school area and also due to the fact that academic research and development will be done in the centre and sustainable companies will be able to work hand in hand within the centre. Initially, there was a plan to erect a wind turbine at the centre but it was later cancelled due to planning issues and the council did not allow the erection of the wind turbine at the hydrogen research centre.

Technology employed at the hydrogen research and development centre

Photovoltaic array (Solar panels)

The photovoltaic array installed on the roof of the 2-storey building office block covers about 148 square meters (see figure 8 showing the PV array installed in the hydrogen centre). This PV array has a capacity of 20 KW [13]. It comprises of 4 Fronius IG40 inverters were 105 - Kyocera KC200GHT- 2 modules. These Kyocera modules were installed by Dulas with a 50% grant from the low carbon building program for the installation [13]. The expected annual output of the system is 16.8 MWh per annum with the CO2 savings of over 9.5 tonnes per annum.

ydrogenics alkaline generator (electrolyser)

The electricity generated from the photovoltaic array and emulated wind power output is fed into the Hydrogenics alkaline electrolyser that was installed by Air liquid (see figure 9 below showing the Hydrogenics alkaline electrolyser). The electrolyser has a 30% hydroxide solution and it splits deionised water into oxygen and hydrogen at a maximum rate of 10Nm³/hr. The electrolyser output rating is 4.8 KWh/m³ of hydrogen with 4.5 KWh/m³ hydrogen productions and 0.3 KWh/m³n from auxiliary equipment, cooling etc.

Initially, it is compressed to 200 bars but the air compressor drives the booster compressor to increase it to 450bar storage.

Compressed cylinder tanks

The hydrogen produced from Hydrogenic electrolyser is compressed to 100 bars in a standard diaphran compressor and it is being stored in compressed cylinder tanks within the research centre. These compressed cylinder tanks are used to store the hydrogen until they are ready for usage. (See figure 10 below showing the compressed cylinder tanks).

Hydrogen fuel dispenser

The compressed hydrogen is also used as a vehicle fuel which is being dispensed using a hydrogen fuel dispenser installed within the research centre by Air liquid (see figure 11 below showing the hydrogen fuel dispenser). A range of hydrogen fuel cars are being refuelled with renewable hydrogen using the hydrogen fuel dispenser (see figure 12 showing a Tribid mini bus being fuelled using the hydrogen dispenser). Also, a CNG fuel dispenser is situated in the research centre and this allows further alternative fuelled vehicles to operate from the site. It is in the also to install an electric recharge point (see figure 13 below showing the CHG fuel dispenser).

PEM fuel cell (Inverters)

The research centre has got four 12 kW Hydrogenics PEM fuel cell installed by UPS systems [13], which is also powered by the compressed hydrogen (see figure 14 below showing the PEM fuel cell). The PEM fuel cell has a battery that holds the charges and act as inverters that converts the DC electricity produced to AC. The AC is also converted back to DC by the fuel cell to feed the electrolyser. Also, the fuel cell feeds electricity back to the building during periods of restricted electricity supply at the research centre.

Advantages of the Renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre

The centre stands as a masterpiece and some of its advantages are listed below:

  • It contributes towards a low carbon economy as the hydrogen produced at the centre is by electrolysis using renewable generated electricity.
  • The research and demonstration carried out at the centre focuses on developing more economical and sustainable methods of electricity generation.
  • The research projects carried out at the facility increases the prospects of the movement towards a hydrogen economy in UK.
  • It plays a major role in increasing the awareness about generating hydrogen from various renewable energy sources thus, promoting the credibility and viability of the hydrogen economy.
  • It serves as a form of development of a low carbon centre in South Wales.
  • Also, it plays a key role in achieving the "Hydrogen Valley's Vision" which is to achieve a zero emission energy based economy supported by sustainable business community through the exploitation of leading edge technologies and simulation of emerging niche markets.

Disadvantages of the Renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre

  • One of the disadvantages of the research centre is the cost of hydrogen production and storage which is presently very high.
  • Another disadvantage is that the hydrogen produced at the research centre is being used to power the research centre thus; they do not sell power to the grid.
  • Presently, it takes more energy to produce hydrogen than energy that could be recovered.
  • Presently, the technology requires vast amount of land for small amount of energy generation.

Comparative assessment of the technology against other potential energy uses for the renewable electricity

Energy Conversion

In terms of energy conversion, the renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre offers a clean, reliable and sustainable technology for renewable electricity by using solar hydrogen technology with electrolysis of water in which the only by-product given off is water vapour. Thus, the technology does not produce green house emission or CO2 and it helps in the combat of atmospheric pollution compared to biomass conversion in thermochemical power plants that emits nitrogen oxide and small amount of sulphur oxide into the atmosphere.

Compared to the biomass conversion technology, "the solar hydrogen technology is capable of producing high purity hydrogen (99.999%)" (Gardner, 2009) this is good for fuel cell vehicles whose fuel cells are susceptible to contaminants and requires ultra high hydrogen purity.

The solar hydrogen technology uses sunlight which is gotten naturally and has no effect on the flora fauna compared biomass conversion technology that makes use of wood chips, crops etc as feedstock which may lead to deforestation and the problems associated with deforestation is the wide spread clear cutting which leads to ground water contaminations and irreversible erosion patterns that could change the structure of the world ecology.

Cost

According to (Maddy et al, 2003), "the high capital cost element of solar PV electrolysis currently makes the technology relatively expensive and hence a route to hydrogen that may be difficult to pursue" p (63). Thus, in terms of the cost of production, storage and distribution which is very high, the solar hydrogen technology being used at the research centre is not of an advantage compared to biomass conversion technology but research is being carried presently to improve on these processes.

Practicality

In terms of practicality, the renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre is not selling the power generated to the grid at the moment. Presently, the centre is used to create the awareness about various means of generating hydrogen from renewable energy resources most especially solar energy and to demonstrate the usefulness of hydrogen in everyday situations. Thus, the hydrogen produced from the renewable energy sources within the centre is used for the in the centre and for refuelling vehicles through the refuelling dispenser.

Also, the "biomass conversion hydrogen technology is being experimented presently" (Massanet, 2010).

Market readiness of the technology

The technology despite its advantages has not achieved a significant shape of the market in which it competes due to high cost of production and storage. Another major setback in the market readiness of the technology is the fact that vehicles running on hydrogen fuel are not much in the automobile industry as they are currently under research and demonstration process.

Comparative assessment of the Renewable hydrogen facility with another renewable hydrogen project

There is a worldwide interest in the hydrogen economy presently as international demonstration projects are flourishing. A particular example of another high profile renewable hydrogen project is the PURE (Promoting Unst Renewable Energy) energy centre.

  • PURE energy centre was established February 2006 [10] compared to the renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre that was established on the 9th of October 2008 [14].
  • Compared to the renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre, it has been involved in renewable hydrogen developments and off-grid energy projects in 4 continents [10].
  • Compared to the renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre aiming towards raising the awareness of the production of hydrogen through renewable energy source, production of high quality scientific research in sustainable environmental technologies and enhancing the standing of the University of Glamorgan both nationally and internationally, the PURE project is a demonstration project that shows how wind power and hydrogen technology can be combined to provide the energy needs for a remote rural industrial estate.
  • The PURE project has been uniquely developed with small project budget of approximately £350,000 [10] which includes all the engineering and consultancy works surrounding the project. This budget is very low compared to the renewable hydrogen research and demonstration project costing £2.2 million [14].
  • Compared to the renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre that uses solar technology as its primary power source and method of electricity generation, the PURE project uses Wind turbine technology as its primary power source and method of generating electricity.
  • The PURE project uses two 15 kW [9] wind turbines as its renewable energy source compared to the renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre that uses a 20 kW [13] peak photovoltaic array.
  • The PURE project has a high pressure electrolyser that splits water into oxygen and hydrogen at a maximum rate of 3.55Nm³ [9] which has a low rating compared to the renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre that uses a hydrgenics alkaline electrolyser which splits deionised water into oxygen and hydrogen at a maximum rate of 10Nm³/hr.
  • Compared to the renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre that uses 12 kW hydrogenics PEM fuel cell, the PURE project make use of a 5 kW fuel cell [9].

Conclusion

Hydrogen is seen as a versatile energy carrier for the future, complementary to electricity and with the potential to replace fossil fuels and the University of Glamorgan's renewable hydrogen research centre promotes making the vision a reality. The centre makes use of state of the art equipments which are being controlled and monitored by intellectual staffs working at the research centre. The centre aims at reducing the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, effects of green house gas emission and promoting the vision of the "Hydrogen economy".

Research is being carried out towards making the technology cost effective end improving the modes of storage and distribution to meet the growing demand of energy.

Also, it has played a major role in promoting the "Vision of Hydrogen Economy in Wales: placing Wales in a position to take full advantage of the hydrogen economy" and also helping the United kingdom achieve the Kyoto target of 20% cut in green house gas emission by 2020.

This report reflects some of the advantages of the research centre and it is seen the University of Glamorgan's renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre stands as a stunning success.

Reference

  1. Alperowicz and Natasha (1994) BP to close Baglan Bay cracker and ethylbenzene plant (BP Chemicals; South Wales UK facility) Chemical week January 19, 1994.
  2. Contract unlimited website (2010) BP Chemicals announces Baglan Bay closure. [online]. Available from: http://www.contractorsunlimited.co.uk/news/040217a.shtml [Accessed 9th February 2010]
  3. Dopp, R.B (2007) Hydrogen generation via water electrolysis using efficient nanometal electrodes. [online]. Available from: http://www.doppstein.com/white_papers/docs/Water%20Electrolysis%2024%20Nov%2009%20(Webpage).pdf [Accessed 10th February 2010]
  4. Electrolysis (2010) Obtaining hydrogen from water: The bases for a hydrogen economy. [online]. Available from: http://www.nmsea.org/Curriculum/7_12/electrolysis/electrolysis.htm [Accessed 10th February 2010]
  5. Hawkes, D and Maddy, J (2008) Hydrogen and its potential in Wales University of Glamorgan. [Accessed 23rd February 2010]
  6. H2 Wales (2009) Renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre. [online]. Available from: http://www.h2wales.org.uk/hydrogen_centre.html [Accessed 10th February 2010]
  7. Institute of environmental management and assessment (2009) Hydrogen Demo opens at the University of Glamorgan. [online]. Available from: http://www.iema.net/news/envnews?q=spe&cids%5B%5D=86&aid=18524 [Accessed 10th February 2010]
  8. Maddy, Cherryman et al. (2003) Hydrogen 2003. University of Glamorgan. p.63.
  9. New energy focus (2010) South Wales gear up for M4 hydrogen corridor. [online]. Available from: http://www.newenergyfocus.com/do/ecco/view_item?listid=1&listcatid=32&listitemid=3575&section=Policy [Accessed 14th February 2010]
  10. Pure energy systems (2004) Solar hydrogen process produces hydrogen from water. [online]. Available from: http://www.pureenergysystems.com/news/2004/08/27/6900038_SolarHydrogen/index.html [Accessed 10th February 2010]
  11. PURE energy centre (2010) PURE project. [online]. Available from: http://www.pure.shetland.co.uk/html/pure_project1.html [Accessed 10th February 2010]
  12. Renewable energy focus (2009) Hydrogen production from renewable. [online]. Available from: http://www.renewableenergyfocus.com/view/3157/hydrogen-production-from-renewables/ [Accessed 10th February 2010]
  13. Schatz energy research centre (2010) Schatz solar hydrogen project. [online]. Available form: http://www.schatzlab.org/projects/real_world/schatz_solar.html [Accessed 10th February 2010]
  14. The hydrogen centre (2009) The University of Glamorgan Renewable hydrogen research and demonstration centre. [online]. Available from: http://www.h2wales.org.uk/Assets/Images/hydrogen_brochure.pdf [Accessed 10th February 2010]
  15. University of Glamorgan's website (2010) UK's First Hydrogen Demonstration Centre Opens. [online]. Available from: http://news.glam.ac.uk/news/en/2008/oct/08/uks-first-hydrogen-demonstration-centre-opens/ [Accessed 9th February 2010]
  16. Welcome to Neath Port Talbot (2007) History. [online]. Available from: http://www.npt.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=392 [Accessed 10th February 2010]

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