The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) has launched a new project to explore how circular economy approaches can be applied to optimise the efficiency of hydrogen (H2) production and stimulate the development of a local oxygen (O2) market in Orkney.

The project includes 30 days business support from Zero Waste Scotland as part of the circular economy business support service, an initiative supported by funding from both the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund through the £73m Resource Efficient Circular Economy Accelerator Programme.

The project aims to identify potential value-added applications for the commercial use of O2, an untapped by-product of the H2 production process, and develop a more circular business model for H2.

EMEC has been producing ‘green’ H2 since 2017, using renewable energy from local wind and tidal resources to power an electrolyser, splitting water into its chemical components: H2 and O2. However, the cost of producing H2 is high, as roughly one-third of input energy is lost as O2 and low-grade heat during production.

This cost is driving business innovation to increase the efficiency and circularity of the process by identifying end applications for heat and O2 by-products. Local industries such as aquaculture, horticulture, diving, health and aviation all use O2 as part of daily business.

Integrating locally produced O2 into the supply chain will increase island resiliency and reduce the environmental impact of businesses currently getting O2 delivered from the UK mainland.

EMEC hydrogen storage cylinders

EMEC hydrogen storage cylinders

Source: Colin Keldie

Jon Clipsham, Hydrogen Manager, at EMEC said, “Building on the success of pilot ‘green’ H2 projects such as Surf ‘n’ Turf and BIG HIT which have aided the development of a H2 economy in Orkney, EMEC aims to explore the potential of the local O2 market and are keen to receive proposals from businesses to identify local uses for O2.

“This project will enable us to improve the efficiency of the H2 production process by embedding circular economy principles into our business model. It is hoped that the learnings from this project could be used as a basis for other island projects in Scotland and further afield.”

Scott Bryant, Energy Infrastructure Sector Manager, at Zero Waste Scotland said, “This is an excellent opportunity to bring additional economic value to the H2 production process. By finding markets for the unused O2, we can create new and innovative local business opportunities, and also help to bring down future total energy production costs, making H2 generation more commercially attractive. The findings of this project will also help inform other circular economy opportunities in the wider Scottish energy sector.”

Donald Morrison, Buildings and Infrastructure Europe Senior Vice-President and General Manager, at Jacobs, who are assisting with the project delivery, said, “We welcome the collaboration between government and industry to inspire innovation that supports better understanding of the full value chain for green H2. This project takes the green H2 economy one step closer to be circular, increasing sustainability and ensuring long-term economic viability.”