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Tidal, flow batteries and green hydrogen combined in world first £1.8m Orkney project

EMEC's onshore substation and hydrogen plant at Caldale, Eday. Image: Orkeny Sky Cam, courtesy of EMEC.

EMEC's onshore substation and hydrogen plant at Caldale, Eday. Image: Orkeny Sky Cam, courtesy of EMEC.

In a world first project, tidal power is set to be combined with vanadium flow batteries to produce continuous green hydrogen.

The project will be located on the island of Eday, Orkney, at the European Marine Energy Centre’s (EMEC) tidal energy test site, with a 1.8MWh flow battery from Invinity Energy Systems installed to help "smooth" tidal generation.

While tidal generation is predictable, it is variable with two high tides and two low a day. This makes it an extremely heavy cycling application, which can be very hard on conventional lithium-ion batteries, degrading them much faster than when they are used with technologies like solar PV.

This makes Invinitiy’s vanadium flow batteries much better suited, according to the company, as they are able to form heavy duty, stationary energy storage for high-utilisation and industrial applications. The Eday site will consist of eight Invinity VS3 battery modules linked together into a single system, which will be constructed at the company’s manufacturing facility in Bathgate, West Lothian.

Matt Harper, chief commercial officer at Invinity, added that vanadium flow batteries are “the perfect partner” for tidal power, as they can continually absorb then dispatch four or more hours of continuous power, multiple times a day for decades.

“Invinity eagerly anticipates working with EMEC to validate both their vision, and our [vanadium flow batteries] unique fit, for this revolutionary application.”

Invinity's VS3 battery modules. Image: Invinity.
Invinity's VS3 battery modules. Image: Invinity.

The "smooth" electricity generation created through the combination of flow batteries and tidal turbines will be turned into hydrogen using EMEC’s 670 kW hydrogen electrolyser.

Green hydrogen is an "essential step" towards a 100% renewable future, the companies behind the project has said. In particular, it can be used to decarbonise heavy industry and transport sectors, replacing fossil fuels.

Developing a green hydrogen industry could create 120,000 jobs, and deliver £320 billion for the UK economy by 2050 according to the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.

The Scottish government has provided £1.8 million of funding, via Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to the project. Scotland’s Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said they were delighted to support the “world-first innovative energy systems project in Orkney”.

“The demonstration of hydrogen and systems integration with renewables will be a key part of our energy transition pathways and we look forward to watching the progress of this exciting and pioneering project, building on the strong track record of Orkney and EMEC, in particular, in demonstrating hydrogen and integrated energy systems.”

In September, another green hydrogen project was launched in Scotland in partnership with Glasgow City Council. The Green Hydrogen for Scotland project is using solar and wind power to generate hydrogen for transport in a project that “brings all of the pieces of the jigsaw together” according to Lindsay McQuade, CEO of ScottishPower Renewables.

Tidal flow graph, illustrating battery charging and discharging. Image: EMEC and Invinity.
Tidal flow graph, illustrating battery charging and discharging. Image: EMEC and Invinity.

EMEC and Invinity Energy Systemes – which was created following the merger of vanadium redox flow companies Avalon and redT earlier this year – hope to set the project on the island of Eday live in 2021.

Neil Kermode, managing director at EMEC, said the centre’s core purpose was to demonstrate technologies in “new and inspired ways” to help decarbonise the energy system.

“This is the first time that a flow battery will have been coupled with tidal energy and hydrogen production, and will support the development of the innovative energy storage solution being developed in the Interreg NWE ITEG project.

“Following a technical review looking at how to improve the efficiencies of the electrolyser we assessed that flow batteries would be the best fit for the energy system. As flow batteries store electrical charge in a liquid rather than a solid, they can provide industrial quantities of power for a sustained period, can deeply discharge without damaging itself, as well as stand fully charged for extended periods without losing charge. These are all necessary qualities to integrate battery technology with the renewable power generation and hydrogen production process.”

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