In this month’s Powerful Thinking blog, steering group Chair Tim Benson explores Hydrogen Fuel Cell (HFC) technology as the latest developments from pilot projects in the EU and UK bring the reality of temporary power provision for events closer to the UK market. 

“Hydrogen has long been touted as a promising alternative to fossil fuels, since at point of use the only emissions are water, oxygen and heat. Unlike other zero carbon fuels such as wind and solar, hydrogen is classed as a dispatchable electricity source, that is to say output can be adjusted to meet changes in demand. By contrast wind and solar are defined as intermittent/non-dispatchable sources, as they only produce energy under certain conditions. 

A hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) generates electricity through a highly efficient and silent running electro-chemical process. Even though each individual cell produces relatively low current and voltage levels, they can easily be stacked in series or parallel to adapt to different load requirements, and when paired with batteries recharge times are staggeringly quick.

The European EVERYWH2ERE HFC pilot project is now in the final stages of commissioning four 25kW and 100kW units, and the team are requesting expressions of interest for onsite trials from EU festivals and construction projects: http://www.everywh2ere.eu

In the UK, start-ups such as Hydrologiq and PlusZero are busy seeking funding for their own pilot projects, whilst also looking to partner with commercial suppliers of green hydrogen. However, the most interesting UK event related deployment to date was the introduction of a 150kW system installed for EV charging at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed. This collaboration between Siemens and GeoPura provided a zero emissions charging solution for the electric super-cars chosen to make the iconic hill climb.

Some off the shelf HFC products already exist, most notably the BOC HYMERA hydrogen fuel cell generator and their Ecolite-TH2 hydrogen powered LED tower light. The former is being promoted as an alternative to small petrol gensets, but with only 175W peak output its applications are limited. The tower light has undergone a number of iterations and seems to be gaining some traction in the railway maintenance and construction markets, claiming up to 700 hours runtime. 

With so many positives, it beggars the question why hasn’t HFC technology gained greater market penetration? The obvious retort would be safety concerns, but in reality these can be mitigated. The answer lies in the hydrogen supply chain, both in terms of the energy and cost required to manufacture and store it. Steam-methane reformation of natural gas, which is still ubiquitously employed to produce commercial hydrogen, is a highly energy intensive process requiring temperatures of 700°C to 1,000°C for production. Where water electrolysis is used, for the hydrogen to be classed as ‘green’, then the energy supply has to come from renewable sources. 

Aran Bates of Hydrologiq cites £2/kg – £4/kg as the target price for green hydrogen but concedes that to achieve this demand needs to increase significantly. He goes onto say: “One of the biggest things on my mind at the moment is that, even though diesel subsidies are going in the UK in 2022, hydrogen could be cost comparative with 2019 prices if the demand went to up to current levels of diesel use. Hence the only way for green alternatives to come to the market is if diesel doesn’t continue to be unfairly subsidised”.

The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) initiative is doing sterling work to exploit the potential of hydrogen as an energy carrier and fuel cells as energy converters, but I believe we are still some way off from seeing these kinds of solutions widely employed for temporary power applications.” Tim Benson, Chair of Powerful Thinking

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