While the role of hydrogen in the future energy system is still a topic of discussion and small-scale projects are being introduced in locations such as Orkney and Shetland Islands in Scotland, Canada’s New Brunswick utility NB Power is stepping in big time.
In a project with Kennedy Space Centre-based hydrogen technologist Joi Scientific, NB Power plans to develop up to 30 so-called hydrogen 2.0 production stations to supply to the grid as baseload. Hydrogen 2.0 is a term coined by Joi Scientific to refer to liberation of the gas from water in its claimed zero carbon extraction process.
“We are encouraged with the progress made to date on hydrogen 2.0 and are looking forward to the next phase of co-development,” says Gaëtan Thomas, President and CEO of NB Power. “Hydrogen 2.0 has the potential to provide a localised, on-demand hydrogen production capability which, when mixed with other renewable sources such as wind and hydro, gets us closer to our customers by delivering zero-carbon loads at lower cost and greater efficiency.”
The collaboration envisages the deployment of Joi Scientific’s proprietary hydrogen 2.0 production system – few details of which have been made public so far – at multiple distributed stations alongside wind turbines, hydro, and nuclear power to create a net-zero carbon-generating power operation. It also envisages rates will be maintained low and stable in a jurisdiction that does not benefit from large storage hydro capacity.
As a maritime province – on Canada’s east coast – untreated sea water will be used for the hydrogen production, which will occur on site and on demand, i.e. closer to where the energy customers are located and when needed. As such, given the ready availability of coastal seawater, hydrogen 2.0 has the potential to transform the transmission and distribution of electricity, a statement notes.
The initiative follows what Joi Scientific describes as successful third-party verifications of hydrogen 2.0 technology efficiency and throughput by scientific institutions and experts. The companies are planning to work closely together to co-develop and test a commercial prototype unit at Joi Scientific’s labs.
This phase follows an initial license agreement that was signed in 2016, granting NB Power the rights to develop, manufacture, use and sell hydrogen and hydrogen generation systems for large and small electric utility applications using the hydrogen 2.0 technology. The development foresees the utility offering an emissions-free grid architecture combining distributed hydrogen 2.0 baseload generation with smart grid management to other utility operators across North America and beyond.
“This agreement signals the transition of our hydrogen 2.0 technology from the laboratory into full-scale development and commercialisation,” comments Traver Kennedy, CEO of Joi Scientific. “[New Brunswick’s] innovative approach for realising a new zero-carbon distributed grid architecture could provide the blueprint for the way the world generates and consumes electricity going forward.”
Hydrogen has the potential to support decarbonisation across power generation, heating, industry and transportation, in particular when produced in a low carbon process such as from renewable power.
While the jury is still out on the power generation potential, when it comes to transportation hydrogen has the potential to provide a viable alternative and competitor to electric power not only for road vehicles but also for rail, shipping and air travel. Indeed, Joi Scientific’s first technology licence was awarded in September 2018 to Florida-based boat and yacht retailer MarineMax to co-develop hydrogen-based energy solutions for the marine industry. Opportunities include auxiliary power for lighting, heating, cooling and cabin services, where the development work is focussed initially, but also propulsion. With its use of sea water, the technology, if found to be sufficiently viable, could provide a significant boost to decarbonising shipping on all scales.
Ultimately, the wider use of hydrogen will depend on its development. Europe’s Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking sums this up as a “coordinated approach by policymakers, industry and investors” with investments in technologies and kickstarting of deployment across the sectors along with the building of a production supply system.