Interview: David Macartney, Energia Group

14 Oct 2021 | 03.51 pm

Interview: David Macartney, Energia Group

The future for green hydrogen

14 Oct 2021 | 03.51 pm

Zero-emission hydrogen has to move from industry to transport, says David Macartney at Energia

What is green hydrogen?

Hydrogen is a versatile, clean, and safe energy carrier that can be used as fuel for power or in industry as feedstock. Hydrogen is often described by various colours – grey, blue and green for example – with the colour referring to the method of production. 

Increasingly, attention is focused on hydrogen produced from renewable electricity (green hydrogen) or from carbon-abated fossil fuels (blue hydrogen) and away from grey hydrogen (steam reforming) which right now is most prevalent. Importantly, hydrogen produces zero emissions at point of use. Hydrogen can be stored and transported at high energy density in liquid or gaseous form. Hydrogen can be combusted or used in fuel cells to generate heat and electricity. 

Hydrogen has been widely used in industry, ensuring safe production, storage, transport and use. In Ireland it has been used in the power and pharma industries and has been produced by BOC in Dublin. Hydrogen is a flammable fuel, and has similar flammable properties as gasoline and natural gas.

Hence, as with other flammable fuels, hydrogen can be used safely when simple guidelines are observed and the consumer has knowledge of its characteristics. Hydrogen is widely used in industry (globally, there’s 50 million tonnes of hydrogen consumption), and most of the related technologies have a long history. Industry’s track record using hydrogen, as well as its current use, shows its safety.

How can hydrogen support decarbonisation?

Green hydrogen will play an important role in the decarbonisation of the economy.  Our future energy needs will be met increasingly by renewable electricity, but some energy end-uses are hard to electrify via the grid or with batteries, especially in transport but also in other sectors.

Hydrogen also represents an optimal overall solution for long-term, carbon-free seasonal storage. While batteries, super-capacitors, and compressed air can support balancing, they lack either the power capacity or the storage timespan needed to address seasonal imbalances.

Ireland’s electricity generators have fuel security obligations, to store oil in case the gas supply is interrupted. As Ireland transitions towards net zero emissions these secondary fuel requirements will need to be reviewed and hydrogen could play a role.

With increasing levels of constraint/curtailment of renewable electricity generation – available renewable power that the grid is unable to utilise – this energy could be used to produce renewable hydrogen, either for injection into the gas grid or for transport tother end users.

Where is hydrogen use most advantageous or appropriate?

The long-term benefits of hydrogen are compelling, and it provides a promising pathway for the energy transition. Continuous improvements in cost and performance of hydrogen-related technologies are being made. The global interest in hydrogen and the significant financial commitments made by major economies will drive these improvements in cost and performance.

Ireland will want to position itself as a potential exporter of hydrogen, as well as ensuring that connectivity with the rest of the world through maritime ports and airports is ensured by progressing hydrogen-fuelling capability at these gateways.

What has Energia done to support the introduction of hydrogen buses on the island?

Energia Group has led the introduction of hydrogen buses on the Island of Ireland. Over the last eight years Energia has:

  • Secured EU funding for a 1MW electrolyser (the equipment which splits water into its constituent elements, oxygen and hydrogen) which is being built at Energia’s Long Mountain wind farm in Antrim.
  • Secured funding from Britain’s department of transport to underpin Translink’s purchase of three hydrogen-powered double-deck buses, which are now in operation, and support the installation of the island’s first hydrogen fuelling station, owned by Energia, now operational in Belfast.

Energia is proud to have led the project, encouraging and catalysing the transition to zero emission public transport, and is encouraged that public transport in Ireland is now also making that transition.

As bus operators move from the trial phase they will need to consider several sources for their supply of hydrogen, to manage electrolyser maintenance and failure.

The transition to public transport using indigenous energy (such as hydrogen from wind or solar) will mitigate the volatility of gas and oil prices and improve security of supply.

What other renewable projects is Energia Group involved in?

Energia Group has recently won £400,000 funding from the department of transport (NI) to undertake a feasibility study to enable zero-emission maritime solutions at ports and harbours in Northern Ireland. Energia is leading the consortium which includes Belfast Harbour, NIE Networks, Mott MacDonald, University of Ulster, Queens University Belfast and Artemis.

The work with Artemis is very exciting, as they are developing a zero-emission hydrofoil ferry which will be built in Belfast, and we are investigating the use of hydrogen on this ferry.

Energia Group also believes there is an opportunity to inject hydrogen into the gas network, and we are investigating options to produce hydrogen from curtailed electricity at our windfarms to supply to our gas customers, which could include supplying green hydrogen to Energia’s power plants in Dublin.

David Macartney is Corporate Development Manager at Energia Group

Photo (l-r): Energia Group chief executive Ian Thom, minister Nicola Mallon, Wrightbus chairman Jo Bamford and Translink CEO Chris Conway and the announcement of Energia supplying Translink with hydrogen fuel from a North Antrim windfarm. (Pic: Aaron McCracken)

 

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