Hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen is the simplest, lightest and most abundant element in the universe. It carries energy yet offers zero emissions at point of use, and can be produced from a number of sources including renewable electricity. 

Hydrogen can be stored then transported in large quantities by pipeline or in tankers, or be produced and distributed locally in a decentralised system. It can be used when required in a range of transport, domestic, and industrial applications. 

Fuel cells convert the chemical energy from a fuel such as hydrogen into electricity through a highly efficient electrochemical process, with water and heat as the only by-products.

The opportunity

Hydrogen has the unique potential to connect our energy, transport and industry sectors. For example, it could support the expansion of renewable energy by converting excess electricity into hydrogen during times of oversupply, to create a new energy source for use during periods of peak demand. Hydrogen could also be used to help decarbonise heat. 

Awareness of the potential roles that hydrogen can play in the decarbonisation pathways for heat, industry and transport is growing on a global level.

The UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Roadmap, published in November 2016, provides a vision and strategy for how hydrogen and fuel cells could play a greater role in the future energy mix. We commissioned this independent report as part of a consortium including the UK Government, Innovate UK, Transport Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, and the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (SHFCA).

Projects we’ve supported

We have acted early to support a number of world-leading hydrogen demonstration projects, and are continuing to explore and consider the potential role of hydrogen in Scotland’s future energy system as part of the Scottish Energy Strategy. The projects we support are listed below.

Aberdeen Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus Project

In 2013 we provided funding to help deliver ten hydrogen buses to run on two routes in Aberdeen, fuelled by an integrated hydrogen system that produces and stores hydrogen produced by on-site electrolysis. Aberdeen’s hydrogen fuel cell bus fleet have now driven 1 million miles and transported 1 million passengers. 

In 2017 we contributed funding to help double the Aberdeen fleet to 20 hydrogen buses. 

Hydrogen fuel cell buses are electric buses – the hydrogen is run through a fuel cell to create electricity which then powers the motor and moves the bus. Find related information on our low-carbon transport page.

Surf N Turf

Through the Local Energy Challenge Fund we provided funding to the Surf n Turf project in Orkney, which brings together two power sources– tidal and wind – with equipment to convert and store energy as hydrogen. 

Hydrogen produced on Eday is fed into a purpose-built storage trailer. Once full, that is driven to the island’s harbour for shipping to Kirkwall aboard one of Orkney Ferries’ inter-island vessels. In Kirkwall, three 25kW fuel cells (75kW in total) convert the hydrogen into electricity for use in harbour buildings and to provide auxiliary power for ferries while they are berthed at Kirkwall Pier. Heat produced by the fuel cell as a by-product will be used to heat a building at the pier.

Other projects

A European-funded project called BIG HIT, launched in 2018, will build on the Surf n Turf project in Orkney by producing hydrogen from renewable sources for transport and heating. 

The H100 project from Scotia Gas Networks (SGN) is a feasibility study to develop site-specific evidence in support of the future construction and demonstration of a 100% hydrogen distribution network in Scotland.