Green Building magazine :


In this special feature, regular contributor to Green Building magazine, Gavin Harper has assembled this special supplement for us looking at hydrogen fuel and fuel cells ...
The recent flurry of activity by the scientific and engineering community has brought the fuel cell into the public eye, with the subject being mentioned on the Green Building forum, prompting a flurry of activity on the subject. We decided to cover the topic with a round-up of some current projects, interviews with people at the centre of the action, and an exposition of the technology, with the aim of attempting to

answer some of the questions posed, and investigating the real capabilities of this technology. Many would believe that the fuel cell was a recent innovation, however, its roots can be traced back to as early as 1838. Sir William Robert Grove is widely heralded as the father of the fuel cell . He was born in 1811, in Swansea, Wales, a Welsh lawyer who later applied himself to the mastery of science. He discovered what is known as the Grove gas battery . In 1843 he published a diagram and made a primitive model. However, it was not really until much later (in 1959), that a fuel cell with a sizable power output (5kW) was developed by British engineer, Francis Thomas Bacon.


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What is a fuel cell?

A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device. Why electrochemical? Because it harnesses the energy made in chemical reactions to produce electrical energy. You might like to think of a fuel cell as being very similar to a battery, however, there are some key differences. A battery is a sealed unit, where in the case of disposable batteries, once all of the reactants are used up, their energy is depleted. Fuel cells differ in this respect, in that the reactants are continuously replenished allowing the cell to operate for much longer periods. There is also another key difference. In a battery, because of the chemical reactions that are occurring, the electrodes change over the life of the battery. In the case of rechargeable batteries, this change is reversible ‒ adding energy to the battery allows the electrodes to change back into their original state. Fuel cells differ significantly in this respect. A fuel cell s electrodes are catalytic and do not change considerably over the life of the fuel cell. The fuel in a fuel cell is not burned, like in an engine, as such. Fuel cells are quiet, even silent in operation, and are free from polluting emissions. The key fuel in a fuel cell is hydrogen. In many fuel cells this is supplied as a gas, however, with some fuel cells, for example direct methanol fuel cells , another fuel is used which is a hydrogen carrier . This is to say, the methanol acts as a transport mechanism for getting hydrogen to the fuel cell. In Woking, natural gas is being used as a carrier for hydrogen, being reformed on-site before it enters the fuel cell. Why not just use hydrogen? Well, sometimes by using a hydrogen carrier we make the fuel easier to transport and store. These hydrogen carriers could have an important part to play in a transition to a hydrogen economy, as they would allow us to use existing infrastructure that is currently used to transport petrol and other liquid fuels. However, it must also be noted that there are carbon dioxide emissions as a result of using a hydrogen carrier. The idea was broached on the Green Building Forum, of a hydrogen infrastructure being a useless duplication of infrastructure that is already present for distributing energy ‒ namely our gas and electricity networks. However, if the idea of hydrogen flowing through pipes in the street seems an alien one, think back to before the discovery of North Sea gas, when town gas contained up to 50% hydrogen. Allan Jones remains confident that gas will continue to flow into the UK for many years yet, citing that LPG is easily transportable and can be imported easily. However, the UK has already changed from one piped gas to another variety with different characteristics ‒ it s not inconceivable could happen again.

Figure 1. Simplified diagram of how a fuel cell works.

terminal or -V . Our anode is perpetually exposed to hydrogen which is constantly replenished from a supply such as a tank. The cathode is perpetually exposed to oxygen, which is constantly replenished. The two are separated by a plastic membrane made from nafion , but more about that later. Looking at the anode, the hydrogen must first diffuse through a gas diffusion electrode (GDE). This is a material which allows the gas to pass through to the catalyst, whilst also conducting electricity. Carbon cloths and papers are commonly used as they have the property of being porous to the hydrogen, whilst also conducting electricity. Once it has passed through the GDE it comes into contact with the catalyst, which generally contains platinum. The catalyst facilitates the chemical reaction which comes next, allowing the hydrogen to break into protons and electrons. The nafion plastic membrane is porous to protons and allows them to pass through. However, the electrons cannot pass through the membrane. Instead, they take the next easiest route to reach the other side ‒ this is the electric circuit that allows us to extract useful power from the fuel cell. As the electrons travel round the circuit, they do some work ; this could be powering a motor in a car or scooter, powering a portable electronic device or illuminating a lamp in your home. When they reach the other side, the oxygen (which can either be pure oxygen or the oxygen present in air) reacts with the electrons which have travelled through the circuit, and the protons which have travelled through the membrane, to form water.

How do fuel cells work?

Let s take a look at what happens inside a fuel cell. In this example we are going to look at a proton exchange membrane or polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell. As we will see later, there are different types of fuel cells, all of which follow similar principles. There are two sides to the fuel cell (see Figure 1), the anode and the cathode. The anode is what we would call our positive terminal or +V and the cathode, we would call our negative

How much power does a fuel cell produce?

Typically, each cell produces a potential difference of around 0.8 volts. In a similar way to in a car battery where multiple cells


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are used to create 12v, or in many electrical appliances where we use a number of batteries to create a higher voltage, so fuel cells can be built up in stacks . A fuel cell stack produces a higher voltage than an individual fuel cell. The amount of current that a fuel cell produces is largely dependent upon the size of the active area where the chemical reaction is taking place.

photochemical smog. We have seen the evil of carbon based fuels, which are responsible for the UK s transition to fuels with a lower carbon content ‒ typified by the dash for gas , where coal was usurped by natural gas as the energy of choice. However, the hydrogen economy promises a future without carbon. Hydrogen is colourless, odourless and tasteless, non toxic, and produces water as its only by-product. However, it is dangerous if mixed with air or oxygen because of the fire and explosion risk. In principle, it can asphyxiate through denying the body access to oxygen. Contrast this to carbon based fuels which are also explosive, cause damage to the ecosystem, personal health problems, and potential future fuel insecurity. Our global prosperity in the past couple of centuries has been built on carbon. Unfortunately carbon fuels have been burnt with little consideration for future supply, and the damage done to the environment. After much development, our carbon based engines still only reach around 20% efficiency. Furthermore, our energy is currently generated centrally, which, due to losses in transmission and conversion, can be horribly inefficient. By transitioning to a hydrogen economy, the future is open for distributed generation.

Fuel cell efficiency

One of the great advantages of fuel cells is that unlike conventional heat engines, such as the internal combustion engine (the sort you find in your car or generator), or external combustion engines (such as steam and Stirling engines), the fuel cell is not constrained by the Carnot cycle efficiency (that is to say the rule of thermodynamics which govern the efficiency of conventional engines) because the fuel cells do not operate using a thermal cycle. As a result, fuel cells are theoretically far more efficient than heat engines ‒ which results in extracting more energy from our fuel. However, work is still in progress to reach those theoretically attainable efficiencies. From practical experience efficiencies of 30% are being attained ‒ which correlates with those figures obtained by Paul in Montreal from Wikipedia on the Green Building Forum. Indeed, further to Paul s comments about energy storage in batteries, projects like HARI (see page 64), show how both technologies can be successfully integrated providing efficient short term storage, with the capacity for longer-term storage of energy in hydrogen ‒ and the ability to transport this energy easily or use it as a transport fuel.

Types of fuel cell

The hydrogen economy

With peak oil, and the possibility of peak coal, peak gas and peak uranium, people are looking for new solutions to meet our energy needs. The hydrogen economy is one proposed way of meeting our energy needs more sustainably. It is important to note, that hydrogen is not used as a fuel but as a carrier for energy that is produced using other means. Hydrogen is a near ideal energy carrier and permits a decentralised energy infrastructure ‒ supporting the argument for small scale, local energy production. It can also fit within the framework of our present large scale energy generation infrastructure ‒ and the ability to store it eliminates many of the intermittency problems that are often discussed about renewables. Hydrogen is the first element on the periodic table for a very special reason. It is the simplest of all chemicals, and also the lightest. We do not need to fear running out of hydrogen, as it is the most abundant element in the universe. Hydrogen is a fantastic energy carrier and to understand what makes it so good, you need to look at why carbon based energy carriers are so bad. When a carbon based fuel burns, it produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. In addition, when carbon is burned in an internal combustion engine, impurities in the fuel lead to sulphurous emissions that lead to acid rain, and the large nitrogen content of the air, coupled with the high temperatures reached inside the engine, promote the production of NOX. Furthermore, engines also emit large amounts of unburnt hydrocarbons, VOC s and masses of particulates. The damage caused by burning carbon based fuels can clearly be seen in places like Los Angeles, which is permanently shrouded in a

There are a large number of fuel cell types in research and development by a large number of companies. At the moment, the state of fuel cell technology can be broken down into a distinct number of types, all with their own distinct characteristics, which make them ideal for certain applications.

So how is hydrogen made?

There are a number of ways that we can get our hydrogen. It is a bit of a myth that hydrogen is a fuel . It isn t really, as there is no such thing as a hydrogen mine.


At school, you might have used a Hoffman apparatus in science class. A Hoffman apparatus has a reservoir of water through which is passed an electric current. The electric current disassociates the hydrogen from the oxygen in the water. The gas bubbles off from the electrodes and is collected in separate storage containers. It is observed that twice as much hydrogen is produced as oxygen. Taking a little bit of time to think about this, we see that the chemical formula for water is H2O. This makes sense as we can see that there is twice as much hydrogen in water as oxygen. The hydrogen produced by the electrolysis process is very pure. Some fuel cells require a very pure form of hydrogen so this is ideal. The one disadvantage of electrolysis is that significant amounts of electrical energy are needed for the process. Whilst this electricity can be generated using clean, green renewable energy, there are also many champions of a nuclear-hydrogen economy using supposedly cheap nuclear energy to produce hydrogen ‒ this would leave us with a toxic legacy of waste and would negate many of the benefits of a clean hydrogen economy.

Steam reformation

By combining high temperature steam, and methane, it is


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possible to extract hydrogen from this fossil fuel. The process is fairly cheap and inexpensive, and the heat produced can also be harnessed (known as co-generation ‒ which is covered later). Co-generation provides us with lots of low-level heat which could prove useful in local combined heat and power schemes. This method does show a lot of promise as it is currently an efficient cheap technology that will work with existing gas-distribution infrastructure. However the carbon emissions are impossible to ignore.

electrical losses designed into a centralised generation scheme (see page 66). Taking the example of fuel cell combined heat and power from natural gas, it is seen in Figure 2 what supporting equipment is necessary to interface the fundamental unit of the fuel cell to the rest of the building services. Heat generated from the fuel cell is sequestered in a thermal store until it is required. This helps to balance supply and demand. For backup purposes, and for when additional heat is required, a gas burner is provided to supplement the heat from the fuel cell. Because many solid-oxide fuel cells are sensitive to sulphur, the sulphur must first be scrubbed from the gas to avoid contaminating the fuel cell. There are plans afoot to develop fuel cells which tolerate of sulphur. Companies such as TMI in Cleveland, Ohio are developing fuel cells that may not require this intermediate step and can also run from gases with high sulphur content ‒ such as that produced by agricultural biogas digesters. The gas must then be humidified ‒ waste heat from the fuel cell is used to heat up water to provide humidification. This humidification helps with the next step, which is the steamreformation of natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The gas then passes through a heat exchanger where it is pre-heated before going to the fuel cell, along with air, which is also preheated. The hot exhaust from the fuel cell is used to provide heat for the heat exchanger which produces the hot water, preheats the gases being supplied to the fuel cell and heats the reformer. The output from the fuel cell is direct current (DC) ‒ which must then be rectified into alternating current (AC) and synchronised with the phase and frequency of the grid into which it is being fed. In Woking (see page 66) it can be seen how fuel cells have been selected with power electronics that can work in island mode and maintain the grid frequency in the event

Biomass gasification and reformation

Biomass has proven itself as a relatively clean, near carbon neutral source of energy. Agricultural waste, organic matter, wood and other sources of biomass can be heated in a controlled atmosphere without the presence of oxygen. This yields a gas ‒ synthesis gas, which is hydrogen rich as well as containing carbon monoxide and dioxide. The carbon emissions from this source of energy are effectively neutral as the carbon dioxide was taken out of the atmosphere in the first place by the growing plants. However, carbon emissions in the production and distribution of Biomass cannot be ignored. There is also the possibility of sequestering the carbon produced in the gasification process. This could effectively make biomass with hydrogen extraction a carbon negative fuel.


Photoelectrolysis is a relatively new unproven technology. It involves using solar energy to stimulate a silicon junction similar to a photovoltaic cell, with the distinction that instead of the energy being converted to electricity, the silicon junction acts directly on the water where electrolysis occurs. This technology shows promise, although much development must be done.

Biologically produced hydrogen

There are a number of types of algae that use photosynthesis to convert solar energy into hydrogen. At the moment these processes have only been demonstrated on a small scale, but research in this area is intense. It is expected that great strides forward in this area could be made.

Clean coal?

There are vast tracts of coal throughout the world. However, coal is carbon rich ‒ burning it doesn t help global warming, and mining leaves scars on the landscape which can last for generations. There are, however, schemes afoot to look at gasifying coal, extracting the carbon, and sequestering it.

Co, tri and quad generation

Whilst fuel cells are some way off achieving their theoretical maximum efficiency, the waste heat that is produced can be utilised in heating and cooling applications. Whilst some heat is still lost ‒ this is inevitable ‒ the model of producing electricity using decentralised fuel cells is far more attractive than the present model of centralised generation. Allan Jones explores how fuel cells have the potential to reduce the amount of energy wasted as dumped heat, and

Figure 2. A tri-generation fuel cell.


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Figure 3. Where the energy from tri-generation goes.

For many years, hydrogen fuel cell technology has been just over the horizon, just a couple of years away, a little out of grasp. It s a technology that doesn t ever seem to be covered in much depth in the mainstream, as it is always seen as intangible - something which is more science-fiction than science fact, and something that we won t need to worry about for a good couple of years yet... The signs are this perception is rapidly changing. A number of announcements and events in the past couple of months have been the catalyst for hydrogen technologies gaining increased prominence in the media, and a number of announcements have shown that hydrogen is beginning to permeate the public s imagination. It is a technology which we can no longer afford to ignore, as the signs are it is coming of age. Whilst the buildings and installations that presently feature fuel cells are few and far between, there are signs in the air that the technology is gaining momentum, and likely to become an increasingly common sight in the next couple of years. The bi-annual Grove Fuel Cell Symposium was held in London recently, widely regarded as the world s premier fuel cell event, occupying the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre for three days. The event acted as a magnet for hydrogen experts, companies and organisations to descend on London for a few days ‒ and with any major event like this, there is bound to be an intensification of press releases, announcements and interest in the field. BAXI, the mainstream boiler manufacturer, were exhibiting a fuel cell combined heat and power (CHP) system, that could eventually scale down for smaller buildings, even domestic use. Support for hydrogen has just been bolstered by the European Union, who believe that hydrogen is part of the package in a sustainable energy future, and so on the 11th of October 2007, they launched a joint technology initiative , with over €1 billion funding including €470m from the EU coffers. This is bound to stimulate new research, innovative early-adopter buildings which integrate fuel cell technology and further development of the field. All the signs point to exciting times ahead, and we are seeing the first batch of designers integrating hydrogen into their homes.

of a main grid failure. This capability enables the private wire network to operate independently in the event that the grid fails. Additionally, controls will interface with the building management system, to match the fuel cells operation to the building s need for heat and power. This is accomplished by using the heat for useful applications ‒ heating a building, or coupled with absorptive cooling to meet a building s cooling loads in the summer. In Woking, quadgeneration is being employed, which builds upon cogeneration and tri-generation, by providing electricity, steam, hot water, and chilled water for cooling, all from a single fuel source ‒ natural gas. A variable fraction of the heat-generated can be diverted into absorptive cooling, enabling the fuel cell quad-gen system to match closely the demand for heating and cooling. Additionally, because the electricity is generated close to source, electrical losses are reduced. Things are beginning to happen apace. For instance, the PURE Energy Centre has announced its collaboration with Fuel Cells Scotland (see page 62), to produce the first unplugged hydrogen houses . The technology is in place, so it is only a matter of time before the first commercially available domestic fuel cell systems are being sold for early adopters . At last year s Grove Fuel Cell Symposium, the boiler manufacturer BAXI was exhibiting a combined heat and power unit, so it s only a matter of time before smaller units become available.
Gavin Harper Useful links:




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PURE hydrogen
On the northernmost inhabited island of the British Isles is an unlikely combination of cutting edge energy technology, and an unrivalled pool of expertise in hydrogen and fuel cells. Gavin Harper visits the PURE Energy Centre and talks to Ross Gazey.
The Shetlands is too distant to be part of the national grid, so the bulk of its power is produced by an ageing oil-fired power station on the island. There are moves to increase the amount of energy supplied to the island by wind turbines ‒ and with the best wind resource in Europe, there is certainly potential to meet the needs of its 20,000 inhabitants. Unfortunately, the island is also one of contrasts. Despite being the location of the North Sea oil industry s massive transhipment terminal at Sullum Voe, the island has the highest fuel prices in the United Kingdom because the oil must be shipped back to the UK for refining, before being shipped back for resale. This means that over 50% of islanders spend over 20% of their income on fuel. The lack of opportunities for graduates on the island prompted the community development organisation The Unst Partnership to look at investing in fuel cell technology as a way of putting Unst on the energy map, retaining skills on the island and diversifying revenue streams. It is clear that in a small community such as on Unst, no man is an island and the close links between PURE, and the community in which it operates, have benefits for everyone. Gazey likens the problems facing qualified young people in Unst to the brain drain facing Britain in the past couple of decades, where highly qualified graduates left the shores of blighty to the US. However, resourceful Gazey was determined for the same fate not to befall his home island. Looking for opportunities to develop clean energy opportunities for the future, he was instrumental in the founding days of what is known as the PURE Energy Centre . In addition to creating six full-time equivalent jobs on the island, the centre has also created wealth for its community, as a result of the visitors to the centre, who stay, spend money on the island and use the services and accommodation. Forget Live Earth, Unst was the first place in the world to hold a rock concert fuelled on renewable hydrogen! In a technology marketplace which is changing rapidly, and the state of the art develops day-by-day, PURE has built itself a formidable reputation in the European fuel cell industry in a relatively short time. As well as the technology improving, PURE believes that the economics

of the technology are starting to make sense ‒ predicting that fuel cells will decrease in price by up to 50% in the next three years ‒ bringing the technology to a much wider marketplace.

Energy centre

The PURE system is based on the premise that hydrogen should be produced from renewable sources. Presently this comes courtesy of a pair of 6kW Proven wind turbines, with plans to upgrade to two 15kW turbines when some design issues are rectified. Being a remote island in the middle of the North Sea, Unst receives more than its fair share of wind, so the availability from the turbines is very good indeed -averaging around 45-50%. Power from the turbines is used to heat the building by modified electric heaters, designed to utilise the supply from the wind turbines more efficiently, and spare excess power is diverted into the electrolyser unit to produce hydrogen. The electrolyser and associated elec-trickery are housed inside the Hy-Pod . PURE has designed the system to be modular, housing all of the technology inside an easily transportable unit (see inset right). This opens up many opportunities for shipping the device and rolling out this solution around the world. Policy makers are beginning to sit up and notice, with many from the great and the good of UK and EU parliaments visiting PURE since its establishment. The hydrogen produced by the electrolyser is then stored for later use in standard K type cylinders. This is a cost-effective solution, and avoids the problems of inefficiency and energy-loss associated with having to compress the gas. PURE is able to do this because of its novel electrolyser arrangement, which operates at system pressure. The organisation then has a number of options. It can use the hydrogen in a 5kW Plug Power fuel cell which provides electricity on-site, mounted next to the HyPod. It has also been developing hydrogen cooking appliances, the first iteration being the PURE hydrogen barbecue, which often comes out for course attendees if the weather is fine. In addition, PURE is developing an internal combustion engine which will run on hydrogen ‒ allowing cheap, legacy technology to reap the benefits of clean hydrogen gas. The HyPod has also been equipped to recharge the hydride cylinders inside the PURE hydrogen vehicle, which Dr Daniel Aklil H Alluin commutes to work in!

Hydrogen vehicle

Gazey told me that this is the first road-legal typeapproved hydrogen vehicle in the UK. There is a hint of irony in its location, Gazey intimates, as on Unst, vehicles do not require an MOT! Whilst on many of the cars on the island, the tell-tale signs of bubbling paint betray the secrets of the tinworm beneath, the ravages of the Shetland weather, and high salt content of the atmosphere do not show on the bodywork of Gazey s car, which he tells me, is ABS plastic covered with a green film - proudly alluding to the car s eco-credentials. Gazey is clear to differentiate the PURE vehicle from


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the crowd - the PURE hydrogen car is refueled with 100% green hydrogen . Many hydrogen vehicles are fuelled from hydrogen produced from fossil fuel. His vehicle employs PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cell technology to convert hydrogen into electrical energy, which can power the car s 4.6kW DC electric motor. In the PURE car the hydrogen acts in symphony with the lead-acid batteries originally fitted to the G-Wiz car on which the PURE car was based, providing a hydrogen hybrid solution and giving the car extra range and acceleration. I am told that one of the challenges with hydrogen vehicle technology is designing a method for refueling, Gazey notes that the PURE system works at a relatively low pressure. However, he is quick to add that it does take six hours to fill the car s metal hydride cylinder (a kind of can filled with a hydrogen sponge which soaks up the gas). This is because the vehicle is refueled at low-pressure, which helps to circumvent some of the safety legislation that the mainstream car manufacturers are having to grapple with. It is clear from Gazey s description of the vehicle and refueling station that he has a passion for flair and innovation.

Vehicle body: Dimensions: Rolling weight: Top speed: Tyres: Drive: Power: Motor: Torque Fuel cell: Hydrogen storage: Braking: Insurance group: 2 Door L 2.6m, W 1.3m, H 1.6m 665kg 45mph/72kph 13 low rolling resistance Rear-wheel drive 8x6v lead acid batteries and a Ballard Nexa® 1.2kW fuel cell 4.6kW, 48V DC motor 50 lb ft @ 2000rpm Proton exchange membrane Metal hydride tanks Hydraulic regenerative 1

Turning circle: 3.5 metres

So why Unst as the location for this novel enterprise?

In addition to creating a novel and innovative vehicle, very much in keeping with the current zeitgeist for green technology sweeping the motoring industry, PURE has also created the sustainable infrastructure to allow refuelling of the hydrogen vehicle. All of this is surprising from one of Britain s remotest islands.

Road test

I took the hydrogen car out for a spin and driving it was a surreal experience. It became apparent that once inside, anyone expecting more than a modicum of knee-room, was likely to be severely distressed. As my large frame climbed into the driver s seat, and flicked the red-switch retro-fitted by PURE, the Ballard fuel cell whirred into action behind me. The quiet hum of the cooling fans was a far cry from the roar of an internal combustion engine, and more akin to an engine fan fitted to many cars. Gazey reminded me that as the vehicle is gearless, there are only two pedals, loud and soft, with no clutch to worry about. To the right hand side of the steering wheel is a chunky rotary knob. R, N, E and F denote reverse, neutral, economy and fast. Ever the daredevil, I was urged to plump for fast. Gingerly pushing on the accelerator, the car surges forward. In all frankness, this was unexpected. Initial acceleration is quite brisk. Turning out of the car park the vehicle s limitations become apparent as we disconcertingly lurch to the left but Gazey reassured me that with several hundred kilo of lead acid batteries and steel frame beneath us we re not going to roll over. On the straight the pedal touches the floor, and the vehicle begins to get up to speed... surprisingly nippy! I was left with the feeling that it is amazing how such a bold technical achievement has been accomplished by such a small organisation and doubtless with pressure from declining oil reserves, vehicles like the PURE are likely to become a common sight on our streets in years to come.
Gavin Harper For further info: PURE Energy Centre, Hagdale Industrial Estate, Unst, Shetland, ZE2 9DS The PURE hydrogen car being refuelled and (inset) one of the hydrogen fueling stations that are dotted across the island.


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Hydrogen integration
at West Beacon Farm
Gavin Harper talks to Rupert Gammon, system architect of the Hydrogen and Renewables Integration Project (HARI) at ‘West Beacon Farm’ in Leicestershire, the home of Tony Marmont.
Tony Marmont is a name that has become synonymous with renewable energy in the UK. His West Beacon Farm has become one of the great examples of how renewable energies can integrate with the rural home.The hydrogen and renewables integration project at his farm, takes Tony Marmont s existing renewable energy infrastructure and examines how renewables could potentially integrate with hydrogen infrastructure in the future. The existing system consisted of a mixed basket of renewables, including two 25kW Carter wind turbines a total installed capacity of 13kWp of photovoltaics and two micro-hydroelectric turbines with a combined output in the region of 3kW. The house s central heating needs are met by a 10kW thermal heat pump, circulating water from a coil at the bottom of an artificial lake and a 15kW electrical, 38kW thermal Totem combined heat and power unit that currently runs on liquified petroleum gas, as well as an array of evacuated tube solar thermal collectors for hot water. However, there is still work to be done. Speaking to Dr Gammon of Bryte Energy who has been responsible for much of the design and implementation of the project, there are still un-resolved issues with the architecture of the system s power electronics and it is constantly evolving. For instance, the system has now transitioned from a high voltage (600V) bus concept shown in the system diagram (right), to a lower voltage of 120V for the main distribution system. Batteries are used to provide shortterm energy storage. The team did some experimentation with advanced batteries, however, these have now been disconnected in favour of traditional lead-acid batteries which have proven to be a more robust solution and a simpler technology. The most recent refinement to the system takes the renewable electricity produced by the solar arrays, micro hydro turbines and wind turbines, and converts any overcapacity that the batteries cannot store into hydrogen. It does this by electrolysis ‒ feeding spare power into a 36kW electrolyser, which, in turn, produces hydrogen at 25 bar which is then compressed and stored in cylinders, providing a measure of long-term energy storage, which complements the shorter term storage capability of the lead acid batteries. So now when additional power is required on dull and windless days, a Plug Power 5kW fuel cell takes the hydrogen and turns it into electricity to augment any power being produced from the renewables. Interestingly, the stored hydrogen can also be used to meet some of the on-site transport energy needs. More on that later. Much has been learnt about the practical implementation of hydrogen technologies, and incremental improvements have been made during the life of the installation. Pipework has been insulated over time to reduce thermal losses, with plans to further insulate

the electrolyser. Furthermore, a waterconservation strategy has been adopted, whereby water, generated as a waste product from the fuel cell, is recirculated back to the electrolyser for production of fresh hydrogen ‒ ensuring it is not wasted. There has also been extensive research and work needed to enable the integration of the 5kW Plug Power fuel cell with the other renewable power system. Regardless of the hurdles Gammon remains confident that the technology underpinning the fuel cell concept is fundamentally reliable and sound. Most of the problems have been more as a result of system integration . For example, after experiencing problems with controlling the fuel cell, it was decided to move the fuel cell closer to the control electronics, as the line was experiencing some attenuation. There have also been a few teething troubles and modifications needed to the software controlling the fuel cell. Dr Gammon is clear, that whilst the basic technology is sound, the jury is still out on the full capabilities of the fuel cell . A significant amount of energy is produced by the installation at Beacon Farm. According to Tony Marmont, the energy generated on-site since the mideighties averages 50MWh per annum. Before the HARI project, 30MWh, on average, was used on site each year and the surplus 20MWh was exported to the grid. Now the spare capacity is diverted into hydrogen production, however, whenever energy is converted from one form to another, some is invariably lost as heat. Tony Marmont estimates that the round-trip efficiency of converting


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Table 1. Summary of all renewable energy systems at West Beacon Farm. System Electrolyser Fuel cell (1) Fuel cell (2) H2 Compressor H2 Storage Manufacturer/Supplier/ Model Designation Hydrogenics (formerly Vandenborre) Intelligent Energy, CHP Unit Plug Power GenCore, supplied by SiGen Ltd Hydro-Pac supplied by BOC Supplied by BOC Rated Performance 8 Nm 3/hour of H2, 34kW, 2.5 MPa (25 bar) rated 2 kW (el), 2kW (th), 24 VDC 5 kW (el), 48 V DC 11 Nm3/hour, 3.75 kW, 8:1 compression ratio 48 cylinders, each 0.475 m , 13.7MPa (137 bar) max pressure, 2856 Nm3 total H2 capacity

Cost (in £) (indicative) 143,000 25,000 20,000 59,000 122,000 369,000 50,000 60,000 67,000 49,000 All systems total cost 595,000

Sub total cost of fuel cell system Wind turbines Solar PV Hydro-electric Integration system Carter wind turbines BP Two systems installed by Dulas Control techniques and bespoke converters from Loughborough University 2 x 25kW two bladed stall-regulated, pitch over-speed 13kW total, mixed polycrystalline and monocrystalline 850W cross-flow turbine with 2m head 2.2kW Turgo turbine with 25m head Various

electricity to hydrogen, then back to electricity, is around 30% - with 70% being lost as a result of inefficiency. Since the system has been operational, 3.6MWh equivalent of hydrogen has been generated and stored onsite, whilst around 6MWh was lost as leaks during the bedding in process, but this issue is now resolved. This resulted in West Beacon Farm temporarily being a net importer of green energy. However, in the future, the plan is for the farm to be able to operate independently, with no need to buy from or sell to the grid.

the legacy option of petrol, Gammon replies dual fuel never gets stranded anywhere . If anything, this highlights how the infrastructure needed to support hydrogen transportation will need to be developed significantly for the technology to become a practical option for the average motorist.

Lessons learnt

From storage to transport

Originally, there were plans to develop a fuel cell range extender for an electric car. However, these plans have been shelved in favour of developing a dual-fuel (petrol and hydrogen) car. Whilst internal combustion engines are not the most efficient technology, they are very well understood, and this feature has made them appealing for the first wave of hydrogen vehicle development. Indeed, BMW has decided to stick with internal combustion engine technology for its Hydrogen 7 . The plans are to employ compressed hydrogen stored in a pressurised tank ‒ the simplest option for storing the hydrogen. There are other methods under exploration Plans are afoot at the farm to modify a Toyota Prius to work as a dual fuel vehicle. Asking why it was decided to keep

The work conducted to date is showing that whilst there is a need for continued investment and development, practical hydrogen-based solutions are not too far away. Asking about the lessons learned from the project, Gammon replies: The project has certainly shown us lots of small problems, but the big picture is that it has helped us to understand how the concept of a hydrogen economy really will work ‒ and it strongly underlines the fact that it is not about electricity storage, there are other ways of doing that ‒ but its about hydrogen as a grid balancing mechanism which also produces transport fuel. It s not about storage, it s about transferring surplus electricity to use as a transport fuel.
Gavin Harper Further Information:

West Beacon Farm hydrogen project: above: the house behind the hydrogen shed below left: the electrolyser that makes hydrogen from excess renewable energy below right: the Plug Power fuel cell bottom: the hydrogen storage tanks.

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Gammon, R., Roy, A., Barton, J. & Little, M., (2006) ‘Hydrogen and Renewables Integration’, CREST, Loughborough University’ WWW.BRYTE-ENERGY. COM All images and table courtesy of Dr Rupert Gammon


GreenBuildingmagazine - Spring08

Working towards a hydrogen future
an interview with Allan Jones
Allan Jones, MBE was the mastermind behind the UK’s first fuel cell CHP venture in Woking, and is now Chief Executive Officer of the London Climate Change Agency. Gavin Harper talked to Jones about fuel cells and private wire networks, and about their future role in our built environment...
in 0.5 milli seconds. Although Woking has other island generation systems, this is very fast. For example, computers crash without power supply at 8 milli seconds so would not even see a power cut with a fuel cell driven island generation system. This is why big banks and credit card companies use fuel cells in the USA. The Woking Park system actually operated in island generation mode due to power cuts in the national grid several times whilst I was at Woking. The Woking Park decentralised energy system comprises other larger CHP trigeneration systems and solar photovoltaics. The heat from the fuel cell CHP was used for supplying into both the district heating and cooling (via heat fired absorption chillers) systems. Electricity, heat and cooling was required for the Woking Park site and supplying electricity on private wire networks at retail (though competitive) prices dramatically increased the economics of the project by 400% over supplying electricity into the national grid at very low wholesale prices. The decentralised energy system at Woking Park met all of the electricity, heat and cooling requirements of the site as well as being a net exporter of surplus power which was supplied to other Woking sites at competitive retail prices under the exempt licensing regime in the UK, paying only a distribution charge to the local public wires distribution network operator, ie., no grid transmission charges, losses or government levies. There were financial benefits because of the economics of operating private wire networks under the exempt licensing regime. I implemented 80 (yes eighty) decentralised energy systems on private wire networks at Woking, which not only supplied these individual sites but also traded their electricity together (imports/exports) between sites over the local public wires distribution network without the need to sell or buy electricity from the national grid. I then asked whether he was disappointed with the current regulatory framework for UK energy supplies, and what he would change? The current regulatory framework does not really inhibit supply on private wire networks to non domestic customers since up to 100MW can be generated, distributed and supplied on each private wire network. However, this is limited to only 1MW for domestic customers on each private wire


began by asking Jones why he had embarked on the idea of combining fuel cell technology with private wire (local supply) networks. Was it more for technical or regulatory reasons, and what advantages did such networks have over the national grid? The fuel cell CHP was embedded into an existing private wire network at Woking Park and the fuel cell CHP was used as a black start generator (as well as a CHP) to enable the decentralised energy system at Woking Park to operate in island generation mode in the event of a failure of the national grid. This enabled the three swimming pools and the leisure centre to continue in operation whilst everywhere else around them could be in darkness. Island generation is a key attribute of fuel cell CHP since they can switch from grid connect to island operation

What are ...?
Private wire networks are a network of supply wires within an organisation’s buildings for distributing electricity around the organisation. Public wire networks are a network of wires linking different buildings and organisations. This includes the national grid.


GreenBuildingmagazine - Spring08

network with the export over public wires limited to 2.5MW in aggregate. This is unfair on domestic customers, since cheaper electricity can be supplied to domestic customers on private wire networks than from the grid, and inhibits the ability to provide decentralised energy to mixed development, which in London is very large scale, whereas in Woking they never came up against this barrier. In its Energy White Paper the government promised to look into the regulatory barriers to decentralised energy. So based on that, how do you believe our energy markets might adapt to a future hydrogen economy and how might the current regulatory framework change or adapt? The current regulatory framework only really applies to electricity and gas. It does not concern itself with heat, heat to cool, renewable gases and liquid fuels (both rich in hydrogen) or hydrogen. However, if the regulatory barriers to decentralised energy are

removed, this would have the effect of not only stimulating low and zero carbon technologies and infrastructure, it would also provide an accelerated pathway to renewable hydrogen. For example, renewable gases and liquid fuels derived from waste and biomass (largest renewable energy resource in London) can provide today s renewable energy for buildings (via CHP) and transport, and tomorrow s renewable hydrogen for buildings (via CHP) and transport, since biogas (derived from organic waste and biomass, via anaerobic digestion) and syngas (town gas) and synthetic liquid fuels (derived from non organic or mixed waste via gasification or pyrolysis) are all hydrogen rich fuels. But to what extent do you believe that fuel cells can act as an enabling technology for decentralised energy? Fuel cells will not act as an enabling technology for decentralised energy but decentralised energy will act as enabling technology for fuel cells since the value of electricity would be increased which would significantly improve the economics of fuel cells and bring forward the utilisation of fuel cells . So what give you the most hope for the future? London taking the lead in tackling climate change on a world city-wide stage and the London Climate Change Agency s role in that. Which leads us on to the gargantuan challenge Jones currently faces as Chief Executive Officer of the London Climate Change Agency (LCCA), a post which he has now held since 2004. The LCCA is the Mayor s direct-delivery agency which has already set in motion projects, including carbon accounting, Better Buildings Partnership ‒ a project to enable and accelerate the uptake of energy efficiency retrofits in London s commercial offices under the Green Organisations Programme, study on the implications for CO2 emissions of housing growth in London and prototyping a deep service model for domestic energy efficiency and micro generation, which is now being rolled out under the Green Homes Programme, renewable energy projects at the London Transport Museum, Palestra and City Hall, fuel cell CHP trigeneration study at Palestra (which is currently being procured), renewable gases and liquid fuels from waste and biomass project currently under way with London Remade and the London ESCO ‒ a joint venture Energy Services Company with EDF Energy established to design, finance, build and operate decentralised energy systems. This is no small task, with urban centres such as London possessing an extremely high energy density. London uses the same amount of energy in a year as Greece or Portugal, so how does Jones see us meeting this demand sustainably, and will hydrogen help us in meeting this aim? The answer to this is in the Mayor s Climate Change Action Plan. 75% of London s CO2 emissions is due to centralised energy supply. This is not normally shown in this way since emissions are normally smeared across end use (ie., housing, commercial, industrial, etc). However, it is important to identify the real cause of climate change since this is how emissions can be reduced at large scale and quickly. The Action Plan sets a target of taking 25% of London s energy supply of reliance on centralised energy by 2025 and by more than 50% by 2050. This, taken together with energy efficiency and the greening up of the remnants of centralised energy

The now famous Woking combined heat and power plant with (inset) the fuel cell building set alongside the public swimmimg baths.


GreenBuildingmagazine - Spring08

with large scale renewables will achieve a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions, not by 2050, but by 2025. Hydrogen will play a role in this. During the dash for gas Britain transitioned a significant chunk of its centralised energy generating capacity to natural gas. The fuel cells being used in Woking and other projects, reform hydrogen from natural gas. Some people hold concerns that, in the future, this will make Britain dependent on other countries for its energy. Jones was quick to allay fears about natural gas supply. With the UK s natural gas supplies rapidly dwindling, how does Jones see us moving beyond reformation of natural gas for hydrogen, and if so how does he foresee us producing hydrogen on the scale required? The UK s natural gas supplies may be dwindling but the UK has taken action on this by connecting Norwegian gas to the UK by pipeline and establishing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure in the UK. LNG has a very high energy density so very large amounts of gas can be transported in a very small space. The UK has established LNG terminals in the UK (I used LNG in Woking), enabling LNG to be transported by tanker from such places as Indonesia, Trinidad and elsewhere. The UK does not actually use any Siberian gas and probably has no need to. Therefore, natural gas will be around for some time yet and probably longer if it is used for CHP and not CCGT (combined cycle gas turbine) power stations. Therefore, hydrogen can continue to be reformed from natural gas for sometime yet but London is working on a renewable hydrogen energy infrastructure to replace the natural gas infrastructure. Jones clearly has a record of practical implementation of fuel cell projects and could well be the most qualified person in the UK to crystal ball gaze and see the road ahead for hydrogen in the UK. I asked him to put his neck on the line and give us some sort of timescale. Hydrogen is 75% of the known universe so is in pretty much everything, including us. Hydrogen will be transported by natural gas (initially), biogas, syngas or synthetic liquid fuels (longer term). This will be supplemented by electrolysing renewable electricity locally but I do not see this as a major source. Other sources of hydrogen also have potential, such as growing hydrogen from microbes or a direct photosynthesis process. Therefore, hydrogen will be transported as part of a fuel by pipeline (gases) or by tanker (liquids). There is no need to transport pure hydrogen (which would be expensive, if not impractical) since hydrogen is only needed at the point of supply at the stationary or transport fuel cell where it can be reformed in situ at the fuel cell CHP or filling station for fuel cell transportation. This could be technically feasible by 2025 and politically feasible by the same date, if the regulatory barriers to decentralised energy were removed. The incumbent government appears to have a resurgent interest in nuclear power after several decades and seems poised to guide us into a nuclear future, whilst other voices, such as Centre for Alternative Technology s ZeroCarbonBritain 1 report, dissent from this view and see the UK becoming a nuclear free nation. The hydrogen economy has voices on both sides of the fence. Some see a hydrogen future enabled by nuclear installations electrolysing water to produce hydrogen, whilst others believe that hydrogen is the key to enabling decentralised technologies. But how does Jones feel about the

view put forward by some promoters of a nuclear/hydrogen future, and whether nuclear power has a role to play in his vision of the hydrogen economy. No. Nuclear power stations are very inefficient, quite apart from the very significant cost, environmental, disposal, long term storage and political issues. According to the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) published by BERR (formerly the DTI), nuclear power stations are only 38% efficient across the year as a whole. Two thirds of its energy is wasted into the atmosphere through cooling towers and losses in the grid and a further 9% of electricity is lost in the grid transmission and distribution systems (Ofgem figures). This wasted thermal and electrical energy has to be replaced by fossil fuel energy to heat buildings, steam for industry and losses in the grid. UK power stations use 50% of the UK s water resources and in a declining water resource world, with climate change, this is just not sustainable and not conducive to what we are looking for in a renewable hydrogen energy economy. Nuclear power stations and so called carbon capture and sequestered coal fired power stations are bear traps. Generating hydrogen from power stations using electrolysis is technically feasible but not sustainable for the reasons as above, quite apart from consuming even more water, as well as the expense and impracticability of transporting hydrogen long distances from power stations. In other words hydrogen goes with low and zero carbon decentralised energy and not with unsustainable centralised energy. Ken Livingstone is quoted as saying, What Allan Jones has achieved in Woking is nothing short of revolutionary and I am delighted that he has agreed to take up the challenge of replicating what he achieved in one borough on London s worldcity sized stage. I asked Jones how he planned to make London the green capital of Europe and he commented that the plan, as set out in the Mayor s Climate Change Action Plan, concerns tackling emissions in 7 sectors: l existing homes l existing commercial and municipal activity l new build and development l energy supply l ground transport l aviation l Mayoral Group showing by doing . Of these, energy supply is by far the largest emitter, causing emissions of 35 million tonnes pa, 75% of London s emissions. This is set to increase by 15% by 2025 if no action is taken. In closing our interview, Jones says, The Mayor s ambition is not just for London to become the green capital of Europe but for London to lead the fight against climate change on a world stage. That is why the C40, bringing together 40 of the world s largest cities, and the partnership with the Clinton Foundation has been established. 75% of the world s CO2 emissions comes from cities. Cities are most at risk from climate change and cities are best placed to tackle climate change. Cities can do this and do not need permission from federal governments to do so.
Gavin Harper 1.


GreenBuildingmagazine - Spring08

The Arcola Theatre is a good example of why London s cultural sector is so dynamic and successful. Arcola is leading the theatre industry in developing this premiere sustainable production and I know that many other theatres are now keen to follow. The Living Unknown Soldier is unique in that it is the world s first production to be powered by a fuel cell, supplied and sponsored by the London Hydrogen Partnership. Every individual, every business, every shop, and every theatre has a part to play in tackling climate change and this lead by Arcola Theatre is just what we need said Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London London s Arcola Theatre, one of the UK s leading independent venues, has installed a hydrogen fuel cell to power its café/bar and selected main house shows. The fuel cell operates almost silently, producing nothing but electricity and clean water. The 5kW fuel cell system takes pride of place in the foyer of the theatre, accompanied by displays describing the benefits and challenges posed by this technology. The prominent location of the fuel cell, and the challenge of relying entirely upon it, provides both a powerful educational tool and a source of motivation for reducing energy use. The first show to be powered by the fuel cell, The Living Unknown Soldier, produced by Strawberry Vale, may well be London s premier ecologically sustainable show. The environmental impact of all aspects of the production has been minimised, including set construction, marketing, company travel and show lighting. The production s environmental footprint will be evaluated by Global Action Plan and the lessons learned published for the benefit of other practitioners. The lighting for the show has a peak power consumption of 4.5kW, up to 60% less than comparable lighting installations. This is made possible through extensive use of LED lighting and the careful use of high efficiency tungsten lamps. In addition Arcola s bar/café has been upgraded to an eco-bar, serving organic and fair-trade refreshments, illuminated by a low energy LED lighting system. The lighting for the entire café/bar now consumes under 500 watts, a saving of 60%, with the added benefit of providing near infinite flexibility in light level and colour for perfect daytime operation as well as for café/bar performances. This project is part of Arcola Theatre s extensive sustainability-related activities - under the banner of Arcola Energy. It is spearheaded by Dr Ben Todd, the theatre s executive director, who also works as a consultant in the fuel cell industry. He said: The arts have a crucial role to play in elucidating and motivating the changes in lifestyle necessary to deliver an equitable future for all humankind. Through Arcola Energy, Arcola Theatre is demonstrating that bold changes can be made and that making them offers exciting opportunities for new creative partnerships. Todd also noted that When we launched Arcola Energy in July 2007 we planned to install renewable technologies within 12 months, this is unlikely to be possible due to restrictions on what we can do as a leaseholder and the protracted business of securing the freehold for our premises ‒ a problem faced by many organisations. The installation of the fuel cell and our present emphasis on greening our operations are examples of what can be done now, whilst infrastructure projects are under development .

Hjaltland Housing Association, along with the PURE Energy Centre and Fuel Cells Scotland, is to build the UK s first hydrogen homes , unplugged from the grid, and storing power generated onsite in the form of hydrogen, which can then be converted to heat and energy by a solid-oxide fuel cell, with combined electrical and thermal efficiency of 90%. The houses are going to be powered by micro CHP fuel cell systems developed by Fuel Cells Scotland. Gavin Harper caught up with Fuel Cells Scotland at the H207 conference earlier this year in Aberdeen, where they were exhibiting their novel solid-oxide fuel cell. By the time it reached the conference, the demonstration model had been operating for 1500 hours. It was a first in that the cell is a unique seal-less design . By eliminating the seals from the fuel cells, the physical dimensions can be shrunk, making a higher energy-density cell, suitable for small applications like domestic micro-CHP. The fuel cell solution will also offer some advantages over the Stirling engine based micro-CHP units currently being installed in some homes, in that they have no moving parts. The fuel cells have been developed by Dr TG Lindsay of Fuel Cells Scotland whose work on solid oxide fuel cell stacks is the culmination of 12 years of research and development. The installation is being supported by the Scottish Executive Renewable Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Scheme, and the applications side will be managed by PURE Energy Centre.

Once the fuel cell has been installed, the second phase of the scheme involves developing a renewable-sourced hydrogen production and storage infrastructure around the houses. Initially, the hydrogen will be used to meet the homes heat and power needs, but the project hopes to eventually develop to the point of producing hydrogen for fuelling a pair of hydrogen cars for the houses. These houses have the potential to be a blueprint for future zerocarbon housing, as with renewably-sourced hydrogen, the only output from the fuel cells will be pure water. Whilst at the moment, the technology is expensive, and the project is made possible by grantfunding, as the technology develops its economic-competitiveness, it could provide a clean energy-lifeline for isolated communities. Dr Daniel Aklil D Halluin of the PURE Energy Centre said, 40% of the worldwide population live with no access to electricity and heat. The CHP scheme will provide these populations with such access. It will also provide communities around the world with access to clean hydrogen fuel to power clean vehicles.


GreenBuildingmagazine - Spring08

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