European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) successfully completes tidal energy project

EMEC tidal energy scheme in Orkney

The EMEC announced in September that it had successfully completed its project to produce hydrogen gas using electricity generated from tidal energy in Orkney - the first initiative of its kind anywhere in the world.

The initiative, dubbed the Surf'n'Turf project, fed power from the Scotrenewables SR2000 and Tocardo TFS and T2 turbine prototype tidal energy converters currently testing at EMEC's tidal energy test site - as well as from a community-owned wind turbine run by Eday Renewable Energy - into an innovative 0.5MW rapid response ITM Power electrolyser unit located alongside EMEC's onshore substation.  This unit was then used to generate hydrogen - which can be stored and moved for use as needed.

Jon Clipsham, Hydrogen Development Manager at EMEC, explained, "The electrolyser splits water into its component elements - hydrogen and oxygen - in an electrochemical process.  Whilst generating hydrogen isn't a new process, this is the first time that it has been generated from tidal energy,"

“The process works by converting the renewable AC power to DC and applying it to water in a series of electro-chemical cells via catalysts that split the water into its constituent components of hydrogen and oxygen in two separate streams. The oxygen is vented and the hydrogen self-compresses and is delivered to downstream equipment," Kris Hyde, Technology Development Manager at ITM Power, commented.

According to Jon Clipsham, Orkney has an 'abundance' of renewable energy - so much so that parts of the electricity grid 'routinely hit full capacity.'  When the grid is full, some of the renewable energy generators in Orkney have to limit production or stop completely, meaning that the region 'misses out on its full clean energy potential.'

In Clipsham's view, the main advantage of the new process is that it enables constrained electricity to be harnessed and stored as hydrogen, which can later be converted back into electricity, or used as a transport fuel.

"There are various other applications that we're also looking into.  Essentially this is just the start of Orkney developing a hydrogen economy," he says.

"In the absence of the electrolyser, the energy and its associated FIT [feed-in tariff] and ROCs [Renewables Obligation Certificates] would be lost.  This enables it to be captured, stored and transported, while allowing EMEC to avoid turning away customers," adds Hyde.

Hyde also reveals that the prospects for the ongoing commercial development of the ITM Power technology over the next few years look rosy.

"We have multiple sales around the world of units from 10kW to 10MW and have a pipeline of £37.7m. Our key markets are Power to Gas, via the conversion of electrical energy to hydrogen, hydrogen transport, via public hydrogen bus refuelling station networks, which we are rolling out, and the use of hydrogen in the chemicals industry," he adds.

Looking ahead, Clipsham reveals that the collaborative team - which, in addition to EMEC, Eday Renewables and ITM Power, also includes Community Energy Scotland and Orkney Islands Council - is currently in the process of completing the commissioning phase of the project, and confirms that plans are already well advanced through the Surf'n'Turf project 'to utilise the hydrogen to provide auxiliary power to the inter-island ferry fleet at Kirkwall.'  Another project - BIG HIT - is supporting the deployment of a fleet of electric vans, each fitted with a hydrogen fuel cell range extender, in Orkney as well as using hydrogen for heating applications.

"There are numerous other opportunities for the Orkney community with EMEC and partners investigating options for future commercialisation," adds Clipsham.