Wind Sourced Energy Storage

Research projects

Project Description:

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Generation of energy from wind power is highly intermittent because of the variable nature of the wind speed, air density and turbine characteristics. Energy production is dependent on the site location, time of day and season. If the wind speed is too low, no energy is produced, and similarly if the wind speed is too high, the turbine must be stopped to prevent damage. Across a wide harvesting site, there can also be large variation in energy production depending on the wind and types of turbines present. As well as variation in energy supply, there is also variation in demand and often the two do not synchronize well together. Maximum energy efficiency occurs when supply meet demands. However, in some cases the energy produced from wind power is not needed since either demand is low or energy can be sourced from cheaper alternatives on the market. When this occurs in the UK, wind farms are instructed to turn off their turbines. However, since most wind farms are privately owned the national grid must compensate the owners using constraint payments, which is wasted money that is passed on to the consumer. In 2019 constraint payments cost the national grid £124 million.

To produce a more constant and reliable source of energy into the national grid from a specific wind farm and as well to better balance national wind energy supply and demand, there needs to be a form of storage of excess wind energy that is both efficient and located close to the source of production. One approach is to use the electricity generated to make hydrogen gas from the electrolysis of water. The hydrogen gas can then be re-converted back into electricity when required or be used in fuel cells or homes for heating and cooking.

Hydrogen gas can easily be made through the process of electrolysis. However, it is currently an inefficient process. Additionally, there are a number of safety issues that need to be considered when storing and utilizing hydrogen gas.

In collaboration with Enertek International this PhD project will evaluate and explore the use of hydrogen gas as a viable means to store excess wind energy. It will focus on two main areas of research, 1) more efficient hydrogen production and 2) safe hydrogen storage and usage.
One objective will be to explore and develop a potentially more efficient means of hydrogen production based on electric field driven splitting of water in highly confined nanogap electrodes[3]. Nanogap electrodes, consisting of two metal plates separated by a small nanospaced gap (<100 nm) have the advantage of eliminating the large parasitic capacitance caused by the formation the electrical double layer at the electrode surface. As has recently been shown, removing this capacitance to give a uniform and very high electric field (>107V/cm) across the entire width of the gap can be used to enhance to the splitting of water through rapid ion migration, field-assisted water ionization and other breakdown effects.

A second objective will be to evaluate and assess safety issues around the production, storage and utilization of hydrogen gas. In particular the focus will be on safety in the areas of storage and controlled combustion. This work will involve either the development of a new type of hydrogen gas sensor with ultra-high sensitivity for the detection of leaks at storage sites or the design, development and testing of a new safety combustion element for high controlled combustion of hydrogen gas

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