ITM Power Plc (ITM) the United Kingdom based renewable energy company recently announced that it has secured funding from the United Kingdom government to conduct a feasibility study for its hallowed GigaStack project, which is aimed at producing the worlds lowest cost green hydrogen producing electrolyser.
As the world grapples with issues of environmental pollution, a greater urgency is being felt to replace the fossil fuel energy resources with more environment friendly fuels that will emit less carbon into the atmosphere and mollify the state of life contained within. All hydrocarbon fuels emit carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and unburnt fuel vapors into the atmosphere when burnt. These elements, individually and in combination are responsible for causing an atmospheric phenomenon called the green house effect. These elements when hanging around in the lower strata of the atmosphere, act like repositories of solar heat. When solar rays entering the atmosphere are not able to irradiate outside into space, it causes the general heating of the atmosphere thereby causing distress among all its inhabitants. Other than that, these gaseous elements also cause respiratory distress among livings and cause many a breathing related ailment like asthma, lungs cancer etc. More serious gaseous polluting elements like sulfur dioxide causes skin and eye irritation among animals and is the cause of acid rain that is harmful to plant life and causes general infertility of soil.
Moreover, as the world advances in its technological prowess, it is imperative that dirty, inefficient and non-renewable energy resources are replaced by clean, sustainable, abundant and non-environmentally degrading sources of energy. Much like the human race which evolved in different stages from early cave man to its current state of modern high-rises and fast setting jets, the time has come for the human race to yet again take an evolutionary leap.
Energy has always been the Achilles heel for the human race. The hunger for energy is insatiable, in-fact humans consume more energy per capita indirectly in the form of electricity and transportation than the energy content in the food they consume., Moreover this ratio is increasing by the day as we advance further in our evolutionary journey. The energy industry is the most valuable of industries in the world, with each country putting in billions of dollars worth of resources to secure themselves a slice of the global energy resource pie. In fact, the more the energy share a country owns out of the total global resource, the richer the country is and more prosperous its inhabitants are. As of 2018 the world consumed energy worth 13864.9 million tons of crude oil equivalent or 18 terawatts worth of electricity equivalent, which is a growth of 2.3 percent over what it consumed in the year 2017. The world’s most energy hungry nation being the United States of America and Sub-Saharan African region having the lowest per capita energy consumption.
There are many potential candidates, who have emerged as providers of renewable energy to take the human race into its next stage of evolutionary cycle, the most prominent of them being electricity and the other being hydrogen. Hydrogen has a special place among all known elements specially in to the role of an energy resource. This element can be produced by spending electricity, which again can be burned back to produce electricity. The total energy loss in this to and fro process is the least among all known energy conversion processes and is only subject to the cost of electricity going into this process. All types of internal combustion engines that use fossil fuels can use hydrogen as fuel with little modification and the largest raw material resource to produce hydrogen is water, the most abundant commodity on earth. Thus, this process is not only sustainable, but can satisfy the energy hunger of human race till the end of mankind with the aid of, however, other renewable resources like wind and solar energy. This theory popularly known as The theory of hydrogen economy was first introduced in the technical paper published by Lawrence W Jones of the University of Michigan in the year 1970.
As time has progressed, this 1970’s concept has caught the fancy of the worldwide scientific community. More and more studies have been conducted, which have only gone on to strengthen the postulates made in that paper. Countries have also realized that this is the way the human race must evolve and are actively channelizing resources into furthering research and development on this subject.
There are other uses of hydrogen as well; it is the only source of industrial production of ammonia, with more than half of the current world production going into this use; the other most prominent use of this gas is in hydrocracking, where it is used to crack heavy crude oil into usable lighter factions like gasoline. However, both the above processes use natural gas as their main resource of producing hydrogen, which is far cheaper than the electrolytic process of producing hydrogen from water. Thus, the current state of electrolysis of water to hydrogen technology is unsustainable in the face of hydrocarbon to hydrogen technology. Hence the current state of research in this field is focused on bringing the cost of production of Hydrogen from water electrolysis at par with that of producing it from hydrocarbon fuels.
Several countries run programs to address the need for research on the above. In the United States several programs are being run by NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) in association with private enterprises and other government funded laboratories. UNIDO (United nations Industrial Development Organization runs an organization called UNIDO-ICHET (International Centre for Hydrogen energy technologies) along with the Turkish government. However, the country which has achieved the most success in this field is Iceland. Due to its strategic locational advantage, it produces cheap abundant electricity far exceeding its needs. This excess electricity is used to make hydrogen, which in turn is again converted to ammonia. The country is a leading exporter of carbon neutral ammonia-based fertilizers.
The United Kingdom this week jumped into this bandwagon and has decided to fund the feasibility study of a hydrogen technology initiative being made by ITM Power Plc called The GigaStack Project. The project’s objective is to significantly reduce the cost of producing green hydrogen, by scaling up individual electrolysis and bringing the size of production to 1 Giga watts of electrolysis per year. The gains will come in the form of savings in manpower and overhead costs and cost of the hydrogen will be at par if not less than that produced from hydrocarbon fuels. The project intends to deploy polymer electrolyte membrane electrolyser technology in a much larger scale than has been used before.
The company is AIM listed and has been a pioneer in hydrogen technologies, it is primarily engaged in the production of electrolysis equipment for the production of hydrogen. The company has manufacturing facilities in Sheffield, United Kingdom from where it exports equipment to customers around the world. Recently the company has announced that it will be leasing out a new facility of 134,000 square feet, which will be developed into a manufacturing facility for its specialist equipment. The facility intends to make 10,000 megawatts capacity worth of electrolysis equipment per year.
The company also runs four hydrogen stations in the United Kingdom which convert excess electricity available during non-peak hours to produce hydrogen to be re-converted to electricity when needed in peak hours. The first stations are located in Advanced Manufacturing Park at Rotherham, second is located at the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence in Rainham in the London Borough of Harving, the third one in the National Physical Laboratory in Bushy Park at Teddington, London and the last one at the Cobham Services Motorway service area (built in partnership with Shell Oil Corporation).
The Company is also actively engaged with various private organizations and governmental initiatives to promote and develop hydrogen-based technologies. Its association with EcoIsland Partnership CIC and its participation in New Energy Project initiated by the United Kingdom Department of energy and climate change are two of the examples of such engagements. Participation in these efforts have brought the company closer to other renewable energy players together who have come forward to support the company’s efforts towards achieving a common goal.
The Company has been benefiting greatly from these associations, The GigaStack Project is a joint initiative between ITM Power Plc, Orsted a Denmark based company and Element Energy, a British strategic energy consulting company. The funding by the United Kingdom government has come as a result of the company, along with its partners, having been selected as winners in the BEIS Hydrogen Supply Competition launched by the United Kingdom government in 2018 to financially support initiatives aimed at producing low carbon hydrogen.