Hydrogen from wind for buses -- German experiments

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Storing wind energy as hydrogen gas is a concept proving attractive to the renewables industry in Germany. Wind developer Energiekontor is planning the first hydrogen filling station for public transport buses in Germany which will use exclusively wind energy for generation of the fuel. And P&T Technology of Hamburg is using wind energy to drive a reverse osmosis process to produce drinking water from salt water before purifying some of the product to produce hydrogen, with the electrolysis process again powered by wind generated electricity.

Energiekontor is co-operating with several enterprises to have its wind powered hydrogen facility completed at a site on the outskirts of Bremerhaven by the start of 2002. The facility will include a compressor and storage plant for the gas and pumps for filling the fuel tanks of buses. Initially two or three buses will be involved in the pilot project.

The company has two options for its wind power. It has applied for planning permission to install a 2-3 MW wind plant within view of the hydrogen facility. A transmission cable directly linked to the hydrogen plant will allow testing of stand-alone operation, but the wind station will also be grid connected to feed surplus electricity into the network.

Should planning for this station take too long or fail, Energiekontor will turn to the 10 MW Wremen wind station which it owns and operates. This is sited further from the planned hydrogen site, reducing the optical impact of the combined technologies in the public eye. But the grid feed-in point of the station is close to the hydrogen site so that an additional cable link could be laid at low cost.

The project will also test the use of hydrogen as a means of storing wind generated power. "We plan to install either a fuel cell or a unit-type combined heat and power plant in which to combust the hydrogen to regenerate electricity," says Energiekontor's Dietmar Kottel. The company expects to have selected a technology supplier by the spring, he adds.

Hydrogen has a calorific value three times higher than diesel, making it attractive as a fuel, explains Kottel. Natural gas companies like Ruhrgas are already making plans in the longer term for feeding renewables generated hydrogen into their gas networks, he says.

Energiekontor's partners in the project, underway for two years, are a transport company, Verkehrsgesellschaft Bremerhaven, an engineering company, Motorenwerke Bremerhaven, and the town development corporation, Bremerhavener Gesellschaft für Investitionsföderung und Stadtentwicklung. The hydrogen facilities will cost about DEM 1 million says Kottel, adding that the city-state of Bremen has signalled that it may make a grant to the project amounting to 50% of the investment costs.

Meantime, P&T's project to produce hydrogen and oxygen from salt water using a stand alone 600 kW turbine was publicly presented at the port of Hamburg in November. The hydrogen produced by the system is stored in a fuel cell so that electricity can be generated on demand.

Both Energiekontor and P&T are confident that hydrogen has a rosy future as a CO2-free fuel. Energiekontor highlights especially the promise for offshore wind stations whose potential, "Not only outstrips other energy forms like solar thermal, hydro, biogas and biomass but which could also supply the whole of Europe's road traffic with clean hydrogen fuel."

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