‘The EU needs to be the starting point for the development of hydrogen as a global commodity.’ This was the opening line of industry body Hydrogen Europe’s statement as the EU announced its bold new strategy to champion hydrogen.
The EU’s priority is to develop renewable hydrogen using mainly wind and solar energy. It wants to see it deployed alongside new renewable power generation as the technology becomes more advanced and production costs decrease.
This was echoed by the recent Government announcement of a Hydrogen Advisory Council to bridge Whitehall and the industry to decide where and when the gas will be deployed taking into account its volume and cost implications.
Charley Rattan is a hydrogen and offshore wind business adviser and trainer, and presents a podcast celebrating new energies known as the Chinwag. He said: “If you want something that would please the existing incumbents of the industry like oil and gas and those coming through like the green lobby, hydrogen fits both.
“It can be made from natural gas and coal but importantly, for the east of England, it is a good fit for low carbon. It can be created from offshore wind via electrolysis, and also by nuclear. There are several low carbon methods of producing hydrogen. It pleases everyone.”
So where does the East fit into all this? EDF has publicly committed to hydrogen production at its UK nuclear power plants including Sizewell. Shekhar Sumit, from the Sizewell C Financing and Economic Regulation Team, said: “We see clear synergies between nuclear energy and hydrogen. Nuclear power is a great way to produce hydrogen via electrolysis as it can provide a high load factor and clean energy. We are currently exploring a demo electrolyser powered by Sizewell B which could not only generate hydrogen to meet requirements at Sizewell B itself but also to power construction at Sizewell C.
“In the longer term, we are looking into the possibility of a hydrogen electrolyser powered by Sizewell C where heat, which could otherwise be wasted, could be tapped off to increase the efficiency of the hydrogen production process.
“A 2MW electrolyser could also produce 800kgs of hydrogen a day which could power 533 forklift trucks, 160 cars or 16 buses, all of which could be utilised in the construction phase of Sizewell C. Additionally, of course, hydrogen could be used to power homes with hydrogen boilers as well.”
In addition, Bacton has the potential to become a major hydrogen reception and processing terminal, and there are bold ambitions for Great Yarmouth Power Station to generate energy via a direct link to Bacton.
These radical and exciting plans are front and centre of a strong campaign by the newly-formed Hydrogen East which wants to drive a hydrogen network across power, heat, transport, buildings, industry, shipping and beyond.
It already has a plan in place starting off with strong liaison with stakeholders before ensuring the region is fully integrated into the hydrogen market. Nigel Cornwall, of New Anglia Energy, is part of the launch team and explained: “There is a lot of interest in the hydrogen debate nationally and, at present, its growth and green strategy is supporting schemes associated with industrial clusters in other areas. East Anglia is getting left behind and we need to catch up quickly. I do not see why we cannot be part of the wider national debate around hydrogen development within six months.”
A priority is to ensure there is a regional mass market and hydrogen use is not just a concept. “We know there are the building blocks here but what is lacking is full knowledge of the scale of the market that can sell it,” he said.
This would also centre East Anglia in the UK-wide cross-industry campaign which aims to make the UK a world leader in the applications and services of hydrogen.
One of the areas being watched closely is the Orkney Islands. They had an over-abundance of renewable electricity which would have been wasted or lost when the grid reached capacity, so they have been producing hydrogen through it. This allows them to store the renewable energy to use for heat, power or fuel. For Charley Rattan, this is a model that can be developed in the East.
He said: “It has been developed very pragmatically on Orkney, linking together various elements of the economy, so you had shipping canister heating and onshore wind linked together. There are reasons for this infrastructure on islands as it can be difficult to get the grid to them across the sea and the cost of diesel can be prohibitive as it has to be shipped in.
“Hubs and clusters are being looked at for hydrogen so you could look at Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Bacton, and say that is effectively a cluster. It has a whole heap of advantages over an island because you have the infrastructure, the docks, the back-up industries, and a network of existing pipelines that could be re-utilised. The East could make a very interesting low carbon and hydrogen cluster.”
Nigel Cornwall agreed: “There are no reasons why this cannot be done here. It does depend on the configuration of the electricity network and the import capability, but I have a view that our energy markets are going to increase and fragment around specific local factors. What we want to do is create a local market where what will become a surplus can be used for the benefit of the local economy.”
Working together will be the key to hydrogen success
One company aiming to embrace the changes is Prior Diesel, which has rebranded to Prior Power Solutions this autumn to reflect the company’s product range and services, which include electrical products, hydrogen fuel cells, hybrid gas engines and clean diesel.
One of its big strengths is staying on top of industry trends and having its own production department where it can design and build its own equipment. The company is also a distributor for all the major OEMs.
Managing director James Rix explained: “Part of that process is staying on top of the latest technology. The fact that we are dealers for a lot of these main companies and have an engineering department where we can innovate, design and keep on top of the latest technology means that we can move forward. That is our aim by moving into these alternative energy solutions.”
It is this passion that has led Prior to look at hydrogen as a key part of its future development. James explained: “I believe it is an important fuel for the future of the world, mostly through hydrogen fuel cell technology. The reason this is so important is that the only emission through it is water. If we can use and make it work, it could help the world become net zero for greenhouse gases and emissions, especially as hydrogen can be produced from wind power which is known as green hydrogen.”
James also echoes the view of Hydrogen East that the region should be playing a part in all this. “It is important that all companies in the region working on this come together, communicate and come up with the products and solutions that customers want.”
Realism is also a key part of the business strategy which means that diesel will remain a part of their work. “We all know diesel is not going to last forever and we know it is bad for the environment. Our aim is to move with the times and help guide that change forward. I think we have the ability and the position where we can phase out diesel and be part of the solution.”
World’s first hydrogen-driven CTV
Workboats is already incorporating the use of hydrogen in its fleet. As it moves towards 100% hydrogen vessels, the company’s business development manager, Mandy Masters, explains why it is committed to a future which encompasses use of the gas as fuel.
Green and sustainable shipping is something Workboats has been working on for some time now with encouragement from the developers and this is already underway.
There is increasing pressure within the renewables industry to reduce emissions so, for us, hydrogen is key to providing a sustainable transport solution for the offshore wind industry.
We are the company that started construction of the world’s first hydrogen-driven CTV, which we have named and which lowers CO2 emissions. This first vessel will demonstrate that hydrogen fuel technology can power CTVs while withstanding the challenging environments we face while working on an offshore windfarm.
The promising aspect of incorporating a hydrogen solution is that green hydrogen is considered one of the cleanest and greenest fuels that can be produced.
The use of dual fuel technology allows us to make a massive step towards the carbon-free future while retaining the redundancy requirements that the offshore wind industry requires for safe transfer of personnel to wind farms offshore.
This is a good first step as running a ship purely off hydrogen is not an option just yet because the hydrogen fuel we require are not quite there yet.
The news of a push for a strong hydrogen presence on the East Coast is also encouraging. We have had a presence there for 18 years. To have suitable bunkering facilities for hydrogen vessels would be extremely beneficial to our future plans, and we will watch developments with interest.