Siemens is investing a new form of energy storage for renewable sources.
Europe’s largest industrial manufacturing company, Siemens, has opened a new and innovative facility to study new hydrogen storage possibilities that involve the use of ammonia.
The new facility is thought to be the first of its kind in the world.
The $2 million proof-of-concept plant opened by the German-based company in Harwell, Oxfordshire, UK was funded by Siemens and Innovate UK, a government agency in the United Kingdom.
The one-of-a-kind plant is where Siemens intends to test the efficiency of converting energy to hydrogen, and then to ammonia, and then back again.
Beyond Siemens and Innovate UK, the University of Oxford, Cardiff University, and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, are also involved in the green energy project. As part of the renewable and hydrogen storage testing project, there is a wind turbine, a water electrolysis system, a nitrogen generator, a 30-killowat (kW) electric genset, and a Haber-Bosch reactor.
Ammonia could provide a large-scale hydrogen storage solution.
Siemens is testing ammonia as a possible way to store and transport hydrogen because the company’s research into the gas was complementary to its work on other energy storage tech, like batteries, Ian Wilkinson of Siemens told Greentech Media (GTM).
A program manager for the project within Siemens, Wilkinson also said while batteries would likely be the dominant storage tech used for short-term and low capacity applications, longer-duration and large scale storage requires something different. This is particularly the case if the power must be transported from one location to another or stored in a place that is without caves for compressed air or hills for pumped hydro.
Wilkinson further explained to GTM that ammonia has transportation and storage characteristics that are akin to fossil fuels. However, unlike fossil fuels, ammonia doesn’t have the potential to release carbon into the atmosphere. Hydrogen, on the other hand, is not easily stored or moved around.
Another benefit of using ammonia is that the gas is low-cost and a familiar compound to handle, due to the fact that it is already manufactured, stored and transported at industrial scale.
That being said, Wilkinson did add that ammonia production may not be the best solution for all applications involving hydrogen. For instance, when used in fuel cells to power vehicles, the gas would have to be converted back to hydrogen, which would result in a further loss of efficiency.
Further study will help determine the true benefits of the electricity-to-hydrogen-to-ammonia process for hydrogen storage and transport.