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Automotive mass production know-how could put P2G on road to market, says ZSW

Interior of P2G electrolyser. Image: ITM Power.
A new project could make power-to-gas “commercially viable” by exploiting links with the automotive industry, according to Germany’s Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW).

It is thought that hydrogen offers an opportunity to scale energy storage up to much longer durations and higher volumes. Water is electrolysed and hydrogen (or other gases) formed as the elements comprising the liquid are split.

At last year’s Energy Storage Europe conference in Düsseldorf, Germany, several experts said that when renewable energy starts to approach high penetration of the network, the gas would be a feasible way to store the power for later use.

Some hydrogen fuel cell cars can have a range of several hundred miles, can be refuelled in less than five minutes and the water used in the tank is even safe to drink afterwards. If coupled with solar or other renewable generation, its environmental credentials are also impressive. However, the cost of the technology has proven a stumbling block.

While a statement sent out by ZSW claimed that the project “makes power-to-gas commercially viable”, on closer reading it turns out the project is still in its infancy. ZSW said it is developing ‘ecoPTG’, a 100kW alkaline electrolyser using simplified processes and materials and equipment that are less costly and easier to commercially replicate than comparable existing systems.

The institute, working with the Reiner Lemoine Institut (Reiner Lemoine Institute, RLI) and Wasserelektrolyse Hydrotechnik (HT) says it is looking to mass production techniques and equipment used in the automotive industry for cues on how best to use affordable materials, such as plastics.

Cutaway of Nissan X-Trail fuel cell vehicle at Fuel Cell Expo 2015, Tokyo. Image: Andy Colthorpe / Solar Media.
Many groups are already working on hydrogen fuel cell mobility, and are, like ZSW’s latest project, dependent on subsidies or state investment. Germany’s federal ministry for economics and technology is providing around €4.75 million (US$5.25 million) to the ZSW ecoPTG endeavour.

Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy, also in Germany, has developed solar-coupled hydrogen chargers at its research institutions that are open to the public and is presumably chasing the same ultimate goal as ZSW. Fraunhofer’s Professor Christopher Hebling told Energy Storage News last year that in his view, carbon taxes and other forces would have to make fossil fuels uncompetitive before the technology could really have a business case.

Meanwhile, fleet vehicles in major cities including some London buses have been equipped with hydrogen fuel cells and British company ITM Power launched its first motorway charging station last year. It was followed at the beginning of this year by the claims of one company, Ullemco, that a ‘retrofitted’ diesel vehicle it had converted to run on hydrogen was confirmed by officials to meet London’s requirements for low emissions vehicles to be exempted from the city’s traffic Congestion Charge.

Japan is also keenly supporting fuel cell cars from Honda, Toyota and others, as well as charger networks on its highways, while in April, Energy Storage News reported that Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) in the US is testing power-to-gas systems that store energy from renewable energy production, including solar power, during times of excess supply, launching the demonstration projects with the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the National Fuel Cell Research Center (NFCRC).

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