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Dual-use hydrogen energy storage could put food cold chain on road to net zero

Friday, 28 May 2021

The University of Nottingham is kick-starting a new £1m project to develop dual-use energy storage technology, capable of delivering hydrogen to a fuel cell and generating direct cooling for refrigeration. 

The system would allow hydrogen power to become a key part of the UK’s sustainable energy future and to help decarbonise the UK’s food cold chain, which is responsible for 18% of the country’s total energy use.

What is the issue?

The technology will target commercial food operations where refrigeration can be responsible for 30-60% of electricity usage (1.2% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions).

In addition to factories and processing plants, the UK food industry also operates a network of 84,000 refrigerated heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) to transport perishable goods.

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

Successful implementation of the technology will reduce the UK food cold chain’s dependency on imported energy and accelerate the large-scale roll out of hydrogen fuel cells for HGV applications. This could lead to an increase in operating efficiency with a corresponding reduction in commercial operating costs, potentially making the UK more economically competitive.

Background

The project aims to produce a highly-efficient, innovative and cost-effective dual-use hydrogen storage technology that, due to its versatility, can be used in a range of industrial cooling processes. 

“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

How it works

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

1) Formulate and validate a new intermetallic alloy suitable for dual-use hydrogen storage system for different applications in the UK food cold chain. Critical properties of the alloy include the hydrogen gravimetric/volumetric density and the pressure at which hydrogen can be supplied to a fuel cell across relevant cooling temperatures.

2) Design and develop a prototype dual-use intermetallic alloy based hydrogen store. The effective use of the store's hydrogen and thermal capacities, system efficiency and cooling power of a dual-use hydrogen system will be tested under operational conditions commensurate with the requirements of commercial operators prevalent in the UK food cold chain.

3) Survey key operators in the UK food transport industry to identify barriers to using hydrogen technology to decarbonise current practices.

Part of the research will be supported by University’s Propulsion Futures Beacon and will utilise their world-class facilities and equipment including the Beacon Devices Lab and the Hydrogen Systems Test Bed based in the Research Acceleration and Demonstration Building supported by the Energy Research Accelerator initiative.

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.”

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Sanliang Ling on Sanliang.Ling@nottingham.ac.uk or Emma Lowry, Media Relations Manager (Engineering) on 0115 84 67156 or Emma.Lowry@nottingham.ac.uk

Emma Lowry - Media Relations Manager Engineering
Email: emma.lowry@nottingham.ac.uk
Phone: 0115 846 7156
Location: University Park

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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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