An Ontario-based company that makes hydrogen fuel cells recently received a financial investment of five million dollars from Enbridge, the well-known oil and gas company. Enbridge is interested in making better use of the province’s electrical generation capacity by incorporating hydrogen gas into their natural gas mix.
For those not familiar with the concept, an electric current can be passed through water to break down water molecules (H2O) into hydrogen gas (H2) and oxygen gas (O2). This is called electrolysis and in this reaction, the energy in the electric current is stored in the hydrogen gas molecules. A fuel cell can then free the stored energy by using the hydrogen gas to produce electricity.
The research Enbridge is interested in concerns only the first stage, that is, the electrolyser, the machine where electrolysis takes place. They want to use electrolyzers to turn excess grid electricity into hydrogen gas fuel which can be mixed with natural gas and transported via existing pipelines and processed back into electricity in any of the province’s natural gas electrical generation plants by conventional combustion.
The idea is intriguing. It is synergy of two already existing infrastructures, the electrical grid and the natural gas pipeline network, that may be enable us to better utilize the energy we generate.
Furthermore, any new developments in a hydrogen gas infrastructure can be encouraging for a renewable energy economy because the two are often thought to be complementary technologies.
- Erik Janssen
(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)
Tyler Hamilton. “Is large-scale energy storage a pipe dream?” Toronto Star. May 4, 2012.