New team of scientists formed to develop hydrogen storage technology

How to store surplus energy from renewables? That's the billion-dollar question that a new international collaboration of European and Japanese scientists is trying to solve.

The researchers are working on hydrogen storage which, as the name suggest, allows excess energy from renewables to be stored as hydrogen.

The extra electricity is used to electrolyse water, splitting it into its constituent parts of oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be used in fuel cells to create electricity directly, or can be converted to methane and used to power conventional gas turbine generators.

The technology solves one of the main problems of renewable energy – intermittency – whereby a technology in ideal conditions generates more electricity than can be used by the grid, but not enough electricity at other times.

Researchers involved in the new collaboration – which focuses specifically on specialised metal-hydride materials that can cheaply and efficiently store hydrogen – say their progress has been significantly expedited by the confluence of cultures and ideas.

Japan has been working towards denuclearisation since the Fukushima power plant accident in 2011, while among European nations, Germany is considered the world leader in hydrogen storage and fuel cell technology.

Convenience energy-store

Energy storage is becoming increasingly prominent as renewable output grows; the Renewable Energy Association launched the sector’s first trade body, UK Energy Storage, in January of this year.

Last December, UK Power Networks also attempted to solve the intermittency problem with Europe’s largest battery storage project. The two-year trial is still underway.

The most mature version of energy storage is pumped hydropower which currently accounts for more than 90% of capacity worldwide. The technology consists of pumping water uphill into large reservoirs when power is abundant and then letting it flow down again to generate power when needed.

Scottish Renewables claims that pumped hydropower storage facilities around the mountains of Scotland would unlock £1bn of investment and deliver ‘a massive boost to UK energy security’.

Brad Allen

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