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HYDROGEN FUEL CELL Hydrogen fuel cell system used to power UK construction site

| Author / Editor: Luke James / Johanna Erbacher

Intended to demonstrate how hydrogen has the potential to be the fuel of the future, Viking Link is a construction site in the UK and the very first in the world to be powered entirely by a hydrogen fuel cell system.

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Part of the Viking Link construction site in Lincolnshire, England.
Part of the Viking Link construction site in Lincolnshire, England.
(Source: National Grid.)

Viking Link is a joint venture between the UK’s National Grid and the owner and operator of the Danish electricity system, Energinet. The goal of this venture is to build a high-voltage electricity interconnector which will be the longest in the world when it’s completed, stretching over almost 900 kilometers between the UK and Denmark.

The interconnector will enable the sharing of clean energy between the UK and Denmark and contribute to the UK’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

Providing energy to the construction site

However, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done prior to the conclusion of the Viking Link project and the deployment of the interconnector. Indeed, the project is very much still in its infancy. So much so, in fact, that the construction site itself currently has no connection to the power grid and will not have one for at least six-to-eight months presuming there are no COVID-related delays.

This is problematic for the project because the construction site’s portacabin offices and other facilities, which will be used by employees and contractors working on the site, require heat and electricity.

To solve this problem, in what has been described as a world first, Siemens Energy, the lead contractor for the Viking Link project, has collaborated with GeoPura to provide the Viking Link project’s construction site with off-grid power and heat. This has been made possible by the use of a zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell.

Until the Viking Link site can be connected to the grid, the hydrogen fuel cell system will be able to provide enough power and heat for the site’s 20 portacabin offices and other facilities, eliminating the need for diesel generators. The hydrogen fuel cell will also be used to power six electric vehicle charging stations.

Making use of waste heat

Siemens says that the hydrogen fuel cell system is capable of providing 250 kilovolt-amperes of standard three-phase, 400V electrical power, and up to 80 kilowatts of heating to the construction site. The fuel cell system also has 216 kilowatt-hours’ worth of battery storage which will be used to smooth out peaks and troths in power demand and improve efficiency. The battery also means that if the hydrogen supply is interrupted, output will continue for several hours.

The fuel cell is based on a 20-foot shipping container that houses all the equipment for converting hydrogen into electricity and heat. It makes use of waste heat generated by its own cooling system which would otherwise be lost. This waste heat is passed through a heat exchanger to heat up water that’s then sent to the site’s facilities. Around 300 meters of reusable piping has been installed at the Viking Link site to achieve this.

Kwasi Kwarteng, UK energy minister, said, “Hydrogen has a key role to play in the UK’s journey to net-zero carbon emissions, and I’m delighted to see this innovative off-grid power source being installed at Viking Link.”

Initially, the hydrogen supplied to the fuel cell system will come from conventional sources but once a sustainable supply of a green alternative is available, it will be used instead.

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