A fresh burst of activity in the hydrogen fuel cell field has given fossil energy stakeholders a chance to exploit new markets, but that bubble of hope is about to pop as new “green hydrogen” technology takes over. A case in point is Scotland, which has come up with a plan to pivot its vast wind power riches and other renewables in the service of producing the zero emission hydrogen fuel — and perhaps other sustainable hydrogen products as well.
Scotland: Offshore Wind Meets Green Hydrogen
If Scotland and wind power ring the same bell, it could be due to media coverage of a nasty tiff involving a new Scottish offshore wind farm and a golf course owned by a US president. Or, it could be due to Scotland’s leadership position in the offshore wind field. Either way, Scotland is a tiny nation (population 5.4 million) with an outsized influence on the global wind industry, so that’s something to consider when you take a look at Scotland’s new green hydrogen plan.
The basic idea is that Scotland’s offshore wind resources (and other renewables) could be deployed to help decarbonize the heavy duty transportation sector by using it to produce green hydrogen for fuel cells, in the absence of other alternatives.
The main pathway for renewable hydrogen today is electrolysis, in which water is “split” by an electrical current. Biogas and electrophotochemical conversion are also in the mix, but so far it looks like electrolysis is winning the race as costs drop. That includes the cost of electrolysis systems as well as the cost of wind and solar-sourced electricity.
As an energy carrier, hydrogen can be used for bulk, long duration energy storage, so one advantage of green hydrogen is the ability to store electricity at scale from wind farms at night, when demand is low.
Hydrogen can also be transported by existing roads, waterways, or pipelines, which would help reduce or eliminate the need to build new transmission infrastructure in order to get more clean energy from the source over to use points.
Green Hydrogen Pops Fossil Fuel Bubble
Aside from the heavy duty transportation angle, hydrogen is a ubiquitous industrial element with broad application in agriculture and food processing (for fertilizer and hydrogenation), to name a couple. Rocket fuel, refinery operations, metallurgy, and scientific research are also in the mix.
So, if some supersonic new battery technology pops up in the sparkling green future and nudges hydrogen fuel cells out of the heavy duty transportation picture, it’s possible that Scotland could pivot its green hydrogen industry to other sectors.
The main source of hydrogen today is natural gas, but leading manufacturers are well aware that the consumers of today are leaning toward sustainable products. If the green hydrogen sector really takes off, manufacturers that depend on hydrogen are going to have a more sustainable supply chain option to choose from in the future.
Along those lines, if Scotland could someday export green hydrogen at a competitive cost for other industrial sectors, the ripple effect could be felt well beyond the energy storage, electricity generation and transportation sectors.
Yes, Hydrogen & Electrification Can Get Along
Where were we? Oh right, Scotland. The new Scottish hydrogen plan brings some heavy hitters to the table in service of a sustainable heavy duty transportation sector. The so-named “Green Hydrogen for Scotland” plan hooks up Ibderola-owned ScottishPower Renewables with the UK’s BOC (under the Linde umbrella) and the fuel cell expert and green H2 specialist ITM Power of “gigastack monster” fame.
“The new facilities planned by ‘Green Hydrogen for Scotland’ will ensure zero emission fuel is readily available to organisations such as local authorities and others with fleets of heavy duty vehicles,” Scottish Power explained in a press release earlier today.
First up is Glasgow, which has set itself a goal of becoming the first net-zero city in the UK by 2030.
That could happen sooner than later. “A proposed green hydrogen production facility located on the outskirts of the city will be operated by BOC, using wind and solar power produced by ScottishPower Renewables to operate a 10MW electrolyser, delivered by ITM Power,” Scottish Power said. “The project aims to supply hydrogen to the commercial market within the next two years.”
Regarding battery-powered vehicles, Lindsay McQuade, CEO of ScottishPower Renewables, is pretty clear that global decarbonization is going to be an all hands on deck effort that enlists every available technology.
“While electrification will play a significant role in taking petrol and diesel vehicles off our roads and make an important difference for the planet, it can only go so far, and we’re doing something about that,” he said. “Our revolutionary approach – which really will be a game-changer – fully supports the large scale transformation needed to replace heavy diesel vehicles with cleaner, greener alternatives.”
More Bad News For Oil & Gas Stakeholders
As for fossil fuel fans, the name BOC should send shivers through their timbers. BOC mainly produces fossil hydrogen from natural gas through a network of steam reforming plants in England and Wales. However, it does have one electrolysis facility under its belt in Ireland. Adding the Scottish notch to its production network indicates that the company sees growth in that area.
BOC’s Mark Griffin, Market Development Manager for Clean Fuels, has dropped a hint in that direction.
“We already operate Europe’s largest hydrogen production and refuelling site in Aberdeen and are looking forward to working with councils across Scotland to develop more projects in partnership with SPR and ITM Power,” he said.
Do tell! BOC’s client list includes the all-important food and beverage sector, where brands are becoming especially sensitive to consumer preferences for sustainable products. Ditto for soaps and other toiletries, as well as plastics.
BOC is also a supplier to industries that produce intermediate chemicals for pharmaceuticals, and for use in semiconductor manufacturing.
The aerospace, iron, steel, and glass industries are also on the list.
Of additional interest is BOC’s client roster in the petroleum industry, where hydrogen is used to remove organic sulfur from various fuels.
Keep an eyeball on BOC’s operations in Glasgow, where the company is firmly embedded in legacy industries. As part of the city’s net zero plan, BOC will likely be spearheading additional initiatives in future years.
Parent company Linde, for one, will probably be keeping close tabs. A successful green hydrogen pivot by BOC could ripple on up through Linde and beyond.
In the meantime, look for the US to play catchup after the November 3 election. If President* Trump gets the heave-ho, a green COVID-19 recovery could put the nation on track to achieve net zero by 2050, according to some analysts.
The Energy Department appears determined to deploy more sustainable hydrogen in the future, so stay tuned for more on that.
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Photo: “The East Anglia Hub combines three offshore wind farm projects (East Anglia ONE North, Two and Three) into one single delivery programme with a capacity of 3,100MW – enough to power the equivalent of over 2.7 million homes*” courtesy of Scottish Power Renewables.