Electrolyser manufacturer ITM Power is giving the UK hydrogen industry an accelerated boost. The new manufacturing facility, the new electrolyser gigafactory, stands on the edge of Sheffield.
While the UK steel industry may be declining, high-value manufacturing has witnessed a continued rise. ITM Power is a leader in the development and manufacturing of electrolysers, capable of converting renewable energy into hydrogen.
Graham Cooley, the CEO of ITM Power, explains that many people view the energy transition as a challenge in terms of decarbonisation, but it’s also an opportunity for manufacturing, engineering and technology development. Cooley believes it is an ideal time to be a cleantech business.
The technology at ITM Power splits purified water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolyser stacks. If renewable energy goes through this process, the end product is zero carbon and can act as a direct clean energy source. With rising gas prices and current geopolitical events, the ability to generate an alternative green energy source is even more appealing. Cooley believes green hydrogen represents the only zero-carbon energy source and the only zero-carbon replacement for natural gas.
Replacing natural gas with clean, green hydrogen is a major part of ITM’s plans. Aside from the supply and demand consideration, there are other factors that Cooley believe will accelerate the green hydrogen market. Combining an electrolyser with renewables and a power purchase agreement provides operators with a secure price for hydrogen for the extent of a deal, removing the volatility experienced in the gas market. Include the fact that its net-zero, further strengthens the choice for green hydrogen.
The combination with renewable energy is critical. Green hydrogen provides a long term storage and power option, converting electrons into molecules. These molecules represent another market for renewable energy, enabling wind and solar providers to expand beyond generating electricity for the grid, adding protection against fluctuations in demand that can result in negative pricing or force operators to take turbines offline at periods of peak generations. Electrons are particularly challenging to store for long periods. Converting electrons into molecules is beneficial as they can be stored for long periods. An offshore wind project could then use part of that power and make green hydrogen and supply it to a refinery or ammonia producer.
Cooley believes the future involves a rapid acceleration of renewables that enables a flexible supply to the grid and the ability to produce hydrogen instantly. If in the scenario the electricity grid doesn’t require power or prices decline, the power can be pointed away from the grid towards the electrolyser to make molecules for another industry. Having this diverse approach means a reduction in risk and an increase in the rate of return.
Cooley explains that industry growth has been significant, increasing from discussing kilowatts to preparing for gigawatts in a matter of years. With further investment in R&D, this scale increase is forecast to generate a 40% reduction in the costs associated with electrolysers over the next few years, strengthening the case for hydrogen. With further developments, hydrogen represents a vital technology to the energy transition capable of significantly transforming the industrial landscape.