Edited to remove first sentence…I kept thinking of Holland as I kept writing and seeing Lolland and confused myself. Thanks for the correction guys.
A small Danish island called Lolland, located in the Baltic Sea, is, in fact, a leader in terms of alternative energy sources. They currently produce 50 percent more wind energy than they can consume, and now they are turning to hydrogen.
Hydrogen fuel is used as a store for energy that has already been created. The fuel, when burned, then delivers energy as heat. The flame of hydrogen not only creates heat, but also water when it reacts with the oxygen in the air.
While hydrogen is generally not found as a single molecule in nature, it can be created via steam reforming, typically from methane. Storage for hydrogen requires four times more space than normal fuel, though it produces practically no pollutants except small traces of nitrogen oxide.
This makes hydrogen fuel ideal for storing energy created by the sun, wind and other means for later use. In fact, liquid hydrogen has been used since the 1970s by NASA to propel space shuttles into orbit. Now, the city of Lolland is using hydrogen to store their excess wind energy in order to become the first hydrogen-powered city.
The Lolland Community Hydrogen, as the project is being called, hopes to establish Lolland as a European leader for hydrogen technology. This micro combined heat and power production (μCHP) will be based on wind energy, electrolysers for hydrogen production and utilization in PEM fuel cells.
Lolland hopes to convert the entire island over to hydrogen via a three stage process, two of which have already begun. The first phase was completed in 2006 after the creation of residential Fuel Cell μCHP in Nakskvov. Excess wind energy powers the electrolyser that separates the hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Both the hydrogen and oxygen are stored in low pressure storage units in order to control:
- hydrogen supply to fuel cells
- oxygen supply to waste water cleaning plants.
Most of the energy provided by these energy cells are used mainly for the operation of the waster water plant, though some was also alloted to make electricity and heat used to heat buildings in the area, similar to a conventional large-scale infrastructre. Other steps of this phase included de-mystifying hydrogen power to consumers and creating new synergies and symbioses with existing energy and environmental facilities.
Phase 2 of the plan was completed in 2008 in the city of Vestenskov, which not only connected current buildngs to the hydrogen plant, but also involved decentralized placement of fuel cells in five homes.
Each unit contained a 2 kilowatt fuel cell stack and an AC converter which would replace existing boilers. These cells ended up being more efficient and have higher energy security than conventional boilers. This phase allowed for authorities to test the safety and operational stability of these units.
The final phase of the program will run from 2010-2012 and involve the installation of these cells in 35-40 more households, which will provide both heat and electricity. The conversion of turning hydrogen into energy is made via an electrochemical procedure that has a 50 percent electricity production and combined efficiency of simultaneous use of 90 percent.
Currently, the homes in Vestenskov are powered by oil and natural gas. Since the hydrogen is created via excess wind, the power is 100 percent carbon neutral.
While hydrogen technology is certainly nothing new, Lolland’s approach to giving power to the end-user, as well as usage of excess energy, has earned it multiple awards. It was chosen as one of the three best climate projects in Denmark and the city of Vestenskov was awarded the smart m2 award of the year from Realkredit Danmark – a prominent building society.
Lolland might be the fourth largest island in Denmark, but its population is still only around 66,000 people. Even if this project may find success on the island, it does not show large-scale feasibility for larger cities and countries. Fuel cells themselves are currently not cost-effective and do not exist full on a commercial market. Still, this small island is making strides showing the rest of the world that it is possible to live without using so many fossil fuels.
Photo credit: Sustainable Cities