It was once one of the busiest docks in the UK, exporting coal all over the world. And now, Methil is leading the way in renewables for all of Scotland and beyond.
Locals and visitors alike were given the chance to see this in action at the Green Network open day event last week, with both the Hydrogen Office and the Fife Renewables Innovation Centre (FRIC) opening their doors.
The Hydrogen Office was officially opened by First Minister Alex Salmond in 2011. With a price tag of over £4 million, it was billed as a the hub for renewables, in particular hydrogen.
It is operated by Bright Green Hydrogen Ltd and boasts a hydrogen storage system wind turbine (known locally as ‘Poppy’) and ground source heat pump.
After Poppy, a £1.6m, 750kW turbine which sits on the famous Methil Dock, the main attraction is a six-metre long hydrogen storage capsule, hidden away in a very unassuming outhouse next to the main building.
It was designed and installed by Pure Energy Centre and cost £450,000. Now for the science bit – it is attached to a 30kW electrolyser, which splits purified water into hydrogen and oxygen using excess electricity generated by the turbine.
About 100kg of hydrogen is produced per year and, at any given time, the storage system can hold 11kg at once, which might not sound like a lot, but given that hydrogen is one of the lightest gases – around 1/14 the density of normal air – it’s enough to power the Hydrogen Office for around two weeks.
So why is all of the cutting edge technology in Methil? “Methil is an area of high deprivation and you can get lots of European development funds to regenerate an area like that,” said David Hogg, technical manager. “This was originally meant to be based in Midlothian, as Bright Green Hydrogen is a Midlothian company, but it wasn’t so willing to spend money there. But people don’t realise just how central Methil is – you’re an hour from Edinburgh and Dundee and two hours from Glasgow and Aberdeen – it’s a great base.”
For now, the Hydrogen Office is very much a demonstrator site and this type of renewables technology is not yet domestically available, owing to the cost of installation. The storage system at the office is similar to something which would be installed at home but, at £40,000, it isn’t cheap.
However, in Japan, the number of domestic combined heat and power systems (CHPs) has now reached the tens of thousands, after the fall-out from Fukushima, and the worry that millions would be left without power if something similar was to occur. This technology works by generating heat and electricity simultaneously, from the same energy source.
David explained: “Japan is by far the world leader in CHP technology, followed by South Korea, the US and Germany. The UK is probably about seventh or eighth in the world market.”
In transport, however, there have been major developments much closer to home. Aberdeen City Council is currently installing a whole fleet of hydro-buses to combat the high emissions currently experienced in the city centre.
“You don’t burn hydrogen, you put it through a fuel cell, so the only emission is water,” said David. “The buses are retro-fitted in a similar way to hybrids. It makes the bus about two-three feet taller, because the hydrogen is stored at the top. The fuel cell just sits where the engine usually goes. They have the same range and same power as a diesel bus but the one difference is cost. The new generation hydro-buses come in at around £1m, compared to £750,000 for a hybrid and £500,000 for a diesel.”
Outside the hydrogen office, which is open Monday to Friday, 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., Karen Ritchie, demonstration centre manager, is hard at work in all the local schools, conducting info sessions and fun workshops to educate children and young people about renewables and the importance they play in today’s world. There is also a strong connection with Fife College and the office has worked with universities all over the country, as well as two in Europe.
“You can definitely see a change in people’s attitudes to renewables,” said Karen. “It is much more accepted, and going out and explaining it to them makes it real, whether that’s explaining how Poppy our turbine works or how we get energy from hydrogen.”
Looking to the future, it is hoped there will be more investment at the office so it can become completely self-contained, at around 90-95% off the grid, in both heating and electricity. “Here at the Hydrogen Office, we are about demonstration, development, education and research, and that will continue,” said David.
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