Renewable Hydrogen “Gigastack” Monster Rises From UK Seas

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Whelp, it looks like ditching the EU didn’t rain on the UK’s plans for the sparkling green renewable hydrogen economy of the future. Earlier this week word slipped out that Phase 2 of the so-named “Gigastack” industrial-scale green H2 project is barreling full steam ahead. Danish wind giant Ørsted is collaborating in the project along with three other heavy hitters:  ITM Power, Phillips 66 Limited, and Element Energy.

Wait, What — Phillips 66 & Renewable Hydrogen

renewable H2
Gigastack is an industrial-scale project designed to “split” hydrogen from water with an electrical current supplied by offshore wind farms (image via Ørsted).

ITM Power and Ørsted are familiar dots on the CleanTechnica radar, but Phillips 66 has yet to appear. However, as a refinery operator the company has an interest in hydrogen — and if it’s renewable, so much the better.

For that matter, in a press release announcing the launch of Gigastack Phase 2, Phillips made it pretty clear that adopting renewable hydrogen is part of its energy transition plan.

Quoted in an Ørsted press release, top Phillips UK exec Darren Cunningham explained that “direct access to existing offshore wind power and a developed industrial base with hydrogen demand at Phillips 66 Limited’s Humber Refinery provides an ideal opportunity to develop a new renewable hydrogen market where the feedstocks are just water and renewable power.”

Phillips has also been tinkering around with solid oxide fuel cells for the past several years with an eye on the natural gas market, though the research could eventually apply to hydrogen. Meanwhile, Phillips has also made a name for itself in biofuel (think used cooking oil) and in Li-ion batteries as well as the solar cell field. The company is also involved in a new Energy Department EV and fuel efficiency initiative.

As for Element Energy, it adds a splash of techno-economic expertise that could help push the Gigastack project into commercial development. The UK energy consulting firm has been specializing in hydrogen and fuel cells for the past 20 years.

The Gigastack Renewable Hydrogen Project

The Gigastack renewable hydrogen project is another one that hasn’t make it onto the CleanTechnica radar yet, so we have some catching up to do as they get on to the next phase.

The project is one of a batch of competitive projects for UK hydrogen supply. Here’s the rundown from the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy:

Gigastack will demonstrate the delivery of bulk, low-cost and zero-carbon hydrogen through ITM Power’s gigawatt scale polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysers, manufactured in the UK.

The project aims to dramatically reduce the cost of electrolytic [aka renewable] hydrogen. This funding will enable ITM Power to work towards developing a system that uses electricity from Orsted’s Hornsea Two offshore wind farm to generate renewable hydrogen for the Phillips 66 Humber Refinery.

Phase 2 For Utility Scale Renewable H2

Ørsted is especially excited about the prospects for ramping up its wind energy business, shedding the last of its fossil fuel holdings, and lending a decarbonization assist to its supply chain.

The basic idea is to deploy electricity from the company’s offshore wind farms in the UK to power the electrolysis process, which involves using an electrical current to “split” hydrogen from water. Metals manufacturers and other industrial sectors are already dipping into renewable hydrogen as an alternative fuel and power source, and Gigastack could help accelerate that trend by bringing costs down on an industrial scale.

That’s a lot nicer, climate-wise, than the current state of  affairs in which natural gas is the primary source for hydrogen.

Phase 1 of the Gigastack project consisted of a feasibility study, completed last year, under which ITM designed a 5-megawatt electrolyzer in collaboration with Ørsted and Element.

Phase 2 calls for an additional GBP 7.5 million (about US$9.7 million) in funding to conduct a study on a 100-megawatt version.

Aside from scaling up the operation, the so-named FEED study (for Front-End Engineering Design) focuses on the real nitty-gritty of various challenges to applying renewable hydrogen on an industrial scale, including regulatory and commercial challenges as well as technical ones.

More Green H2 For The USA

That’s where the Phillips 66 refinery comes in, and that’s why all of this is so interesting from a US perspective. Lessons learned from the Gigastack project could be applied to energy storage and other grid services in the US and elsewhere.

Ørsted has become a key player in the US offshore wind energy race, and at least three northeastern US states are already pursuing renewable hydrogen to ramp down on fossil fuels and resolve grid issues including energy storage and transmission bottlenecks.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to the company for some insights on the prospects for deploying its US wind operations for renewable hydrogen, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Image: via Orsted.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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