In an energy-hungry world, it is hard to imagine anyone having too much clean energy, but such is the case for Orkney, a group of islands off the northern coast of Scotland. The islands have so much wind power that wind turbines need to be switched off on a daily basis.

The islands decided to put that extra energy to good use and started producing hydrogen power, reported CNN Business. 2017 saw a world first when the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) used tidal energy to split water and make hydrogen.

This process is called electrolysis, and it has become quite common on Orkney. A collaboration between EMEC, Community Energy Scotland, and others is using excess wind energy for electrolysis, while Surf 'n' Turf, a project by the Scottish government, is combining excess electricity from tidal and wind turbines for the same process.

Hydrogen emits no carbon and can also be stored. As such, it provides an important clean alternative to natural gas and can be a key to the world's transition to cleaner energy.

However, traditionally the creation of hydrogen has been powered by fossil fuels releasing many harmful emissions in the process. The International Energy Agency estimates that hydrogen creation results in 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, the equivalent of the CO2 emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.

Luckily, Orkney is proving there is a new way to produce hydrogen, and while it's still very expensive, it could one day be done at scale.

For now, Orkney is using the gas to power vehicles and hopes one day to power a seagoing vessel. It will also be used to heat a primary school.


This story first appeared in Interesting Engineering


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