US developer of hydrogen systems HyTech Power is lining up sites in Germany and the UK to pilot its power-to-gas (P2G) technology.

 

Potential locations include wind and solar PV plants to use the electricity generated to provide clean hydrogen. HyTech Power will meet with partners in early summer 2018.

The pilots will demonstrate the electrolyser’s functionality, including electricity to hydrogen conversion, as well as short and longer storage durations, ranging from minutes to several hours to a day or more. The system will also convert hydrogen to electricity and inject it into the grid.

“In addition we want pilot locations where we can create on-site refuelling stations for vehicles, or to at least be within transportation distance of hydrogen refuelling stations”, says the company’s chief technology officer Evan Johnson.

 

Pushing down costs of electrolysis

HyTech’s electrolyser is scalable, so scalable that it can be made as small as 10kW, and the same configuration of components can used to create a system with several megawatts of capacity.

Johnson says: “It’s the same concept as a computer server room, whether one computer, or a thousand, it can be easily scaled not matter the requirement. That will help keep the cost down.

HyTech Power has re-engineered every component in its electrolyser, for example deploying the latest developments in nanotechnology, to enhance efficiency and also minimise the carbon footprint in the production of its systems.

Hydrogen in water is strongly bonded to oxygen. Usually, catalysts that drive the water splitting reaction, releasing hydrogen and oxygen, are made from rare and expensive metals.

HyTech’s electrolyser can make more hydrogen compared with electrolysers of similar dimensions using less electrical current, too, reducing costs.

Hydrogen also has to be stored, which in other types of systems is done by compressing it as a gas, which requires energy, or by bonding it to another molecule and storing it as a liquid.

Some hydrides can also be used as a reversible storage medium for hydrogen. HyTech Power has been looking into bonds that use common elements as opposed to precious metals.

Whether in gas or liquid form hydrogen requires distribution infrastructure. At some point the gas has to be extracted from storage and converted back to energy, by burning it or putting it through a fuel cell.

“Our R&D covers low temperature approaches to releasing that bond, so waste heat could be used for example,” says Johnson.

 

One of Hydrogenics’ earlier P2G projects, in Europe (Courtesy: Hydrogenics)

Wind instruments

Germany is home to more P2G installations and planned projects than any other country in Europe. With large amounts of installed wind capacity in the north, and demand loads in the south, grid bottlenecks have become a costly problem.

One future option is to convert surplus wind generation into hydrogen via P2G and inject into the gas grid, which has more capacity than the power grid.

Canadian supplier of hydrogen production systems and fuel cells Hydrogenics is commissioning a 2.4MW P2G plant in Brunsbüttel, in northern Germany, in the vicinity of the border with Denmark.

The client, Wind to Gas Südermarsch, will convert excess wind energy into hydrogen. The hydrogen will then be fed into the local natural gas pipeline, helping to reduce the region’s carbon footprint. Incentives for wind energy that cannot be fed into the grid are being phased out, leaving investors in these assets looking for long-term alternatives to generate income.

Some owners of older wind farms in parts of the US are also considering new incomes from older assets. A wind farm in Palm Springs, California, will supply electricity for a 2.5MW facility Hydrogenics is supplying, in a strategic partnership with StratosFuel. The facility will convert wind electricity into 1000kg of renewable hydrogen a day, making it the largest commercial P2G plant in North America. Once operational there is the opportunity to double the electrolyser’s capacity.

Rob Harvey, director of Hydrogenics’ energy infrastructure business, says: “Compared with Europe, particularly Germany, North America is behind the curve. But P2G presents owners of older renewable energy plants, with the opportunity for a new revenue stream.”