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Dual-use hydrogen energy storage could bring food cold chain to net zero

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Image: University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham has launched a new £1 million project to develop dual-use energy storage technology capable of feeding hydrogen to a fuel cell while also providing direct cooling for refrigeration.

The technology would enable hydrogen to play a significant role in the UK’s sustainable energy future and contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s food cold chain, which consumes 18% of the country’s total energy.

The device will be targeted at commercial food operations, where refrigeration can account for 30-60% of electricity consumption (1.2 percent of total CO2 emissions in the UK).

Along with factories and processing units, the UK food sector has an 84,000-strong refrigerated heavy goods vehicle (HGV) network for the transportation of perishable goods.

To meet refrigeration demand, up to 24% of the power output of refrigerated trucks used across the network is required, resulting in large CO2 emissions.

Successful implementation of the technology will lessen the UK’s reliance on imported energy for the food cold chain and speed the large-scale deployment of hydrogen fuel cells for HGV applications. This could result in increased operational efficiency and a consequent decrease in commercial running expenses, thus increasing the UK’s economic competitiveness.

The project’s objective is to develop a highly efficient, innovative, and cost-effective dual-use hydrogen storage technology that can be employed in a variety of industrial cooling processes due to its adaptability.

We aim to develop integrated hydrogen storage technologies that will simultaneously provide the controlled release of hydrogen to service fuel cell power needs and direct cooling. Our new technology provides an opportunity to assist in the decarbonisation of the UK food cold chain from farm to fork. This is essential as heating and cooling accounts for over a third of CO2 emissions in the UK.” Dr Sanliang Ling, project lead for the University of Nottingham

The three-year project, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and involves expertise from the Faculty of Engineering and Nottingham University Business School, has three primary objectives:

1) Develop and validate a new intermetallic alloy suited for dual-use hydrogen storage systems in the UK food cold chain. Among the alloy’s critical qualities are the hydrogen gravimetric/volumetric density and the pressure at which hydrogen can be fed to a fuel cell throughout a range of cooling temperatures.

2) Design and build a dual-use intermetallic alloy hydrogen storage prototype. The efficient utilization of the store’s hydrogen and thermal capacity, as well as the system’s efficiency and cooling power, will be evaluated under operational conditions consistent with those encountered by commercial operators in the UK food cold chain.

3) Conduct a survey of key operators in the UK food transport industry to identify hurdles to decarbonizing present processes through the use of hydrogen technology.

Minister for Climate Change Lord Callanan said: “The way we use energy in our buildings makes up almost a third of all UK carbon emissions. Reducing that to virtually zero is going to be key to eradicating our contribution to climate change by 2050.

“That’s why it’s important that innovative projects like Decarbonisation Of Food Cold Chain Through Integrated Hydrogen Technologies and Variable-Temperature Thermochemical Energy Storage System (VTTESS) in Nottingham receive backing to develop new and effective ways to heat and cool our homes and workspaces, helping drive down the costs of low-carbon technologies so everyone can feel the benefits of cheaper and greener energy.”

Nedim Husomanovic

New PEUGEOT e-EXPERT Hydrogen

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