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Industrial-scale hydrogen storage on trial

EUROPE: Hydrogen systems supplier Hydrogenics is taking part in pilots across Europe to demonstrate the potential for hydrogen electrolysers for grid balancing and renewables integration.

Hydrogenics is trialling some renewable energy storage solutions in Denmark and Italy
Hydrogenics is trialling some renewable energy storage solutions in Denmark and Italy

Electrolysis is the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The reaction occurs in an electrolyser.

The projects enable the Canada-based company to demonstrate various new business models for its technology and drive down the cost of energy storage.

These various projects are trialling industrial-scale versions of the company's alkaline and polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysers.

In Puglia, in southern Italy, Hydrogenics' 1MW alkaline electrolyser is being used in a project to increase the integration of renewable electricity from solar photovoltaic and wind plants on the grid, improve active-reactive power control for voltage regulation and enhance power quality.

Much of Italy's renewable energy generation capacity is in the south, but demand is in the north. Storing surplus renewables and feeding into the grid can help the transmission grid operator balance supply and demand.

Danish projects

Hydrogenics is also supplying its technology for two projects in Denmark, which include the Hybalance project in Hobro, northern Denmark, announced earlier this year.

The power-to-gas demonstration project, costing more than €15 million, is supported by the European Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking and the Danish ForskEL programme, which is administered by Danish grid operator

Hydrogenics is supplying a 1.2MW PEM electrolyzer that will produce hydrogen from excess wind energy and will be used to enable grid balancing services.

The project will also be used to validate hydrogen delivery processes at high pressure for fuelling stations for clean energy transportation.

At the other Danish project, also supported by ForskEL, Hydrogenics is supplying a 1MW alkaline electrolyser for a commercial-scale power-to-gas facility at a wastewater treatment plant in Denmark.

Grid services

Use of electrolysers to provide grid stabilisation services is less common than using grid batteries to date, so one of the project's main aims is to demonstrate electrolysers can provide frequency regulation services in the Danish grid and to prove it can meet the response time requirements set by the Danish grid operator.

"Our electrolysers are technically mature for industrial-scale applications, but through these projects we are developing and demonstrating commercial applications and business models," said Hydrogenics' EU regulatory affairs and business development manager for renewable hydrogen Denis Thomas.

Alkaline electrolysers are a more mature technology than PEM electrolysers, though both are suitable for industrial-scale hydrogen storage and power-to-gas in the multi-megawatt range.

In the future, PEM technology may gain the edge by reducing the footprint of electrolyser cell stacks and production costs.

"So far we have managed to get system level costs of PEM electrolysers to the same as those for alkaline, which is in the region of €1.5 million/MW," said Thomas.

Large-scale power-to-gas plants, with electrolysers of 10MW and above could potentially halve the cost to around €1 million/MW.

To reduce the cost of PEM technology further the company is focusing on extending the operational lifetime of the electrolysers from 40,000 operating hours, which translates to about seven to eight years, to 50,000-60,000 hours, equivalent to over ten years.

"We see big potential in future for gas refining facilities, which use huge quantities of hydrogen, and there are opportunities to decarbonise refining activities," Thomas said.

The pilots in Italy and Denmark, which aim to show multiple applications and revenue streams, from storage of surplus renewable energy to provision of grid services, can help make the technology more cost-effective and competitive.

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