Katriona Edlmann with Claire Perry UK Energy Minister Nov 2019 SCCS
credit: Callum Bennetts/Maverick Photo Agency
Tomorrow, the All-Energy 2019 conference in Glasgow focuses on hydrogen as part of the UK's clean energy future. Ahead of this, we speak to two scientists from the SCCS partnership, who are engaged in different areas of cutting-edge hydrogen research. Join the CCS sessions this afternoon from 2pm to find out more about the technology and infrastructure that will help to decarbonise our heat, transport and industry sectors.

Science at the cutting-edge of UK’s hydrogen revolution

The hydrogen revolution has begun. In cities across Europe, the gas is already in use for heat and transport at both pilot-scale and full-scale, with a view to expanding its role within a zero-carbon future.

In Aberdeen, for example – birthplace of the UK’s oil and gas industry – the city is using hydrogen-powered buses and other public service vehicles on a daily basis. Plans are now under way to trial hydrogen for heating 300 homes. And the city’s hydrogen sector is being promoted globally as one of eight energy investment opportunities in the UK.

A recent report from the UK’s Committee on Climate Change stated that “a significant low-carbon hydrogen economy will be needed to help tackle the challenges of industry, peak power, peak heating, heavy goods vehicles, and shipping emissions”. The Scottish Climate Change Plan also lists hydrogen under “technologies critical to further industrial emissions reduction”. To reach a net zero carbon society by 2050, we will need a combination of approaches to reducing our emissions, and that includes the hydrogen.

Katriona Edlmann SCCS 2Dr Katriona Edlmann, Chancellor’s Fellow in Energy, School of Geosciences, The University of Edinburgh

You recently won funding for a hydrogen-based project. What do you hope to achieve?
Geoscientists from the University of Edinburgh have received funding from the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council for a £1.4 million research project to investigate the storage of hydrogen in the subsurface. The project, HyStorPor, (Hydrogen Storage in Porous Media) is designed to increase understanding of the whole hydrogen system, from fundamental physical and chemical processes to social acceptability.

Multi-megawatt energy storage of hydrogen will require a large volume of geological storage in suitable subsurface formations with sufficient porous storage rocks, a sealing caprock and a structural trap.

There is already considerable experience in the subsurface storage of gas using depleted oil and gas fields, deep aquifers, salt caverns and engineered caverns. However, the low atomic weight of hydrogen and the repeated injection and withdrawal cycles adds a new complexity. We need to establish if seasonal subsurface hydrogen storage will be efficient, with minimal loss of the gas between storage and withdrawal cycles in order to establish large-scale storage.

Who are the other researchers you’ll be working with?
The research team, led by Stuart Haszeldine, Professor for Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Edinburgh, consists of a group of scientists based at Edinburgh University and Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, with further support from world-leading researchers based at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and Imperial College London.

Lab work or fieldwork? And what will you be doing?
The work will combine state-of-the-art laboratory experiments, numerical modelling and social science research to investigate the fundamental science of geological hydrogen storage.

Have you had to develop any new equipment or methods?
We’ll be constructing new laboratory equipment that is capable of replicating the conditions of pressure and temperatures that the rocks used for hydrogen storage would experience. This gives us a window into what is happening to the rocks and hydrogen when it is injected into the geological storage rocks at depths typically two to three kilometres underground.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I believe hydrogen has the game changing potential to completely decarbonise our electricity, transport and heating systems in a sustainable manner. Undertaking the fundamental research that could enable the large-scale uptake of hydrogen is hugely exciting.

Why is this research important in a wider context?
The UK 2008 Climate Change Act and the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) initiated a transition to low-carbon energy generation. Despite positive steps forward, the 2015 EU RED and 2018 IPCC progress reports suggest that significant further efforts are required to limit climate change and reach the 2020 renewable energy targets. Hydrogen can provide this innovative accelerated future pathway to low-carbon energy as a multi-megawatt source of energy storage when combined with renewable energy generation.

How will the project’s results support our transition towards a net-zero carbon society?
Hydrogen generation and storage is a technology that can facilitate the uptake of renewable electricity generation, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and increase compliance with international climate protection agreements. In a national and regional context, the impacts are significant. Technology advances could lead to continued employment and job creation, supporting the UK's Clean Growth Strategy and providing for regional, low-carbon industrial innovation.

Hydrogen is produced by water electrolysis during excess renewable energy periods and stored in suitable subsurface geological formations for withdrawal when there is insufficient renewable energy. This will even out the discrepancy between renewable energy generation and demand, facilitating further uptake of low-carbon renewable electricity generation. Ultimately, hydrogen could become a replacement for methane in domestic and industrial heating.

Katriona Edlmann is presenting on Day 2 of All-Energy 2019, as part of the session, Large-scale seasonal geological storage of hydrogen: The future of low carbon energy. (16 May 2019, 14:00 - 15:30, Dochart)

Hyungwoong Ahn SCCSDr Hyungwoong Ahn, Senior Lecturer, Institute for Materials and Processes, School of Engineering

You recently won funding for hydrogen-based projects. Who will you be working with and what do you hope to achieve?
We’ve won funding from a number of sources for a variety of research projects, including the IChemE Global Awards 2016 for “low carbon coal-to-H2” process as finalist in the Energy Award. Also from the UK Global Partnership Fund, UK-Korea Focal Point Programme – Clean Energy, Advancing a Futuristic H2-based Economy through a Creative Partnership between the UK and Korea. Here, we’re working alongside fellow researchers from Bath, St Andrews, and Yonsei University, Korea.

Lab work or fieldwork? And what will you be doing?
We’re designing hydrogen purification pressure swing adsorption processes containing up to 13 columns. We are also looking at process integration and intensification of low-carbon hydrogen production processes. We’re also developing a lab-scale 6-column hydrogen pressure swing adsorption rig for validating experimentally the purification process design.

Have you had to develop any new equipment or methods?
Traditionally, (expensive) natural gas has been used for production of industrial-scale hydrogen and the process also emits carbon dioxide (CO2) in converting gas to hydrogen. I’m working to develop a novel chemical process to produce hydrogen from (cheaper) solids, e.g. coals, asphalts or municipal solid wastes, curbing its CO2 emission substantially.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
Interest in the hydrogen economy is growing fast these days, and in many countries. Being contacted for research collaboration is exhilarating.

Why is this research important in a wider context?
The hydrogen economy is only viable when the gigantic demand can be met. The proposed process solution is capable of producing low-carbon hydrogen economically at industrial scale. Carbon capture and storage on power generation incurs augmented energy consumption. In stark contrast, CCS on hydrogen production greatly enhances its process performance, i.e. boosting the hydrogen yield.

How will the project’s results support our transition towards a net zero carbon society?
Hydrogen production from hydrocarbons is still the only viable route to meeting fast growing demand but it involves CO2 emission. The proposed process solution enables a production process that enhances hydrogen yield from the feedstock and reduces the cost involved in CO2 capture.

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