Scottish Scientists Explore Solar Hydrogen Production

In the first project of its kind in Scotland, Professor Tariq Muneer and his team at Napier University’s School of Engineering want to use the electricity produced by solar panels to create hydrogen gas through electrolysis, demonstrating every step of the clean hydrogen energy cycle.

Electricity from the school’s solar array will power the electrolysis cycle, which amounts to passing a current of electricity through water to separate the hydrogen molecules from the oxygen molecules. The hydrogen gas produced can be stored under pressure for use later in a fuel cell. The project will enable the University to generate electricity at night from the fuel cells when the solar panels would not be active in generating power. This process is one version of an entirely clean hydrogen energy process. Currently, most hydrogen gas for fuel cell applications is produced through a process of reforming natural gas, a finite fossil fuel. “Hydrogen can be produced fairly cheaply using electrolysis of water,” said Professor Muneer, Director of Research at the School of Engineering. “However, there are dirty and clean ways of producing hydrogen. The clean way is to use renewable energy, like the solar panels, rather than fossil fuels to power the electrolysis.” The project, which has secured money from the third round of Scottish Research Investment Funding, will cost around GBP 70,000 (USD $85,000) and should be working by June 2007. The project follows on from work by Allan Jones MBE, Chief Development Officer of the new Climate Change Agency for London, who integrated such systems in Woking Council Building. “This project will be the first of its kind in Scotland and will demonstrate the complete cycle of renewable energy — production, storage, and transportation,” Muneer said. “It will be a valuable research and teaching tool, enabling us to learn more about renewable energy production and to develop its efficiency to prove its viability. Hydrogen fuel cells have massive potential to end reliance on fossil fuels, which are a major contributor to global warming.” Napier University creates part of its electricity through the solar panels, which were installed in June last year and generate around 13 MWh per year — enough to power around 60 of the 500 computers in the Jack Kilby Computing Centre at Merchiston Campus. The panels are BP Solar ‘Saturn’ high-efficiency models and are non-reflective and self-cleaning. They have already reduced Napier’s carbon emissions by nine tons.

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