Green light for Scottish hydrogen energy hub

First Minister Alex Salmond today gave the green light for a pioneering clean energy hub in Scotland, including Europe’s largest hydrogen bus fleet, as he announced funding of up to £3.3 million for the EU-backed project.

The Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise funding will enable Aberdeen City Council, supported by Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, to start the project’s first phase with an order for 10 hydrogen fuel-cell buses – which produce water vapour instead of carbon monoxide and other harmful emissions.

They will be operated on First and Stagecoach bus routes in the city by early 2014 and refuelled at Scotland’s first large hydrogen refuelling station, which will also be able to refuel hydrogen-powered passenger cars, as they become available. Scottish & Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSEPD), working with industrial gases and clean energy technologies business BOC, will develop an integrated ‘whole hydrogen’ system which can harness wind energy to produce and store hydrogen that is then used as fuel for the bus fleet, as well as for generating electricity at times of peak demand.

The First Minister said: “Through our Green Bus Fund, the Scottish Government is already supporting the roll-out of 74 low carbon buses, such as diesel-electric hybrids, to reduce harmful vehicle emissions. Hydrogen buses will produce zero local emissions. Aberdeen is already Europe’s offshore energy capital and this exciting new project can help position it as a leading city for low carbon technology and green transport. With a strong group of project partners, this initiative will boost Scotland’s profile as a key hydrogen technology hub and a world-leading investment location for pioneering low carbon energy and transport systems.”

The Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise have each committed up to £1.65 million to support the project, which has also received funding from the European Commission, and the UK Technology Strategy Board. In addition to the City Council, SSE and the two bus operators, other project partners include Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, Ballard Power Systems, BOC, Scotia Gas Networks and Van Hool.

Aberdeen City Council leader Barney Crockett commented: “This funding is a vital contribution to Aberdeen City Council and its partners’ work to introduce a fleet of hydrogen buses to the area. I believe this initiative will stimulate further innovative hydrogen technology projects and attract even more high-level investment to this city. It is a crucial step towards Aberdeen becoming a world-leading, smart hydrogen city.”

Giles Fearnley, Managing Director of First UK Bus said: “This is an exciting, ground-breaking project which we are delighted to be a part of, particularly in our home city, Aberdeen. Throughout the UK, First is committed to reducing its carbon footprint, particularly emissions from our buses. We already operate 68 hybrid vehicles, including 10 in Scotland, with a further 41 on order across the UK and have made tremendous advances in engineering which has reduced our fuel consumption. This project therefore is a natural fit, and one we hope that will be very successful. We’re looking forward to operating the hydrogen buses.”

Andrew Jarvis, Managing Director, Stagecoach Bluebird, added: “Bus travel can deliver huge environmental advantages over taking the car. Powering vehicles from renewable sources such as hydrogen can make the bus an even greener and smarter option. We already source energy for one of our bus depots in Aberdeenshire using geothermal heat extracted from the ground, as well as harvesting rainwater to clean our buses. Locally-generated hydrogen fuel is an exciting prospect and will complement the range of measures we are taking across Stagecoach Group to grow our business sustainably and help our customers cut their carbon footprint.”

SSEPD’s Director of Distribution Stuart Hogarth commented: “This is an ambitious project which allows us to explore new ways of managing energy flows on our network and should help keep the costs of energy down in the future. We’re pleased to be working with a group of partners who are experts in their field and to be helping introduce a new form of sustainable transport for Aberdeen.”

Scottish Enterprise Director of Energy & Low Carbon Technologies Adrian Gillespie said: “In supporting this project we can help to realise the long-term benefits of investing in hydrogen infrastructure. By providing a means of managing or storing surplus electricity from wind-farms, this project could play a vital role in enabling the management and storage of Scotland’s vast renewables resources. The recently-published Smart Grid Sector Strategy estimates that the UK market for energy management products and services will be worth over £1.2 billion by 2020. As well as creating opportunities for companies already involved in hydrogen-related technologies, this project could also create opportunities for companies in other sectors to diversify their activities into the hydrogen production and storage market.”

The First Minister announced the funding in Aberdeen where he also viewed a hybrid-electric bus – powered by a sophisticated battery system and supported by a traditional diesel engine – which was recently introduced with support from the £5.9 million Green Bus Fund. Local emissions from the hybrid buses are around a third less than conventional buses. The hydrogen fuel-cell buses, to be introduced following today’s announcement, will produce zero local emissions.

Hydrogen is an energy carrier, like electricity, that requires a source of primary energy to make it. Currently, most global hydrogen production comes from fossil fuels but it can also be produced from electrolysis, using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The use of hydrogen as a transport fuel offers great promise as a key component of a low carbon energy system. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles emit no harmful local emissions, have a much higher efficiency than fossil-fuelled equivalents and are virtually noise-free. Hydrogen can also be generated from a wide range of sources, offering improved energy security and, if generated from renewables, one of few routes to fully decarbonise road transport.

Beyond benefits for the transport sector, hydrogen has a potentially vital role in energy storage. Hydrogen generated from renewable electricity sources such as wind can be stored and then used for a variety of end uses including regenerating electricity at times of peak demand, and potentially as a way of decarbonising the natural gas network. .Hydrogen technologies can play a key role in facilitating the mass deployment of renewables and are rapidly developing to the point of technical and commercial maturity. The Aberdeen demonstration project is an important step on the path to the commercial use of hydrogen as a fuel, addressing both transportation and energy storage aspects of hydrogen technologies.

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