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ITM Power – revenues grow from £8k to £480k in a year
Fuel Cells, Sep 11 2012 (The Hydrogen Journal)
- UK hydrogen company ITM Power reports that its revenues have grown from £8k to £480k in one year
ITM Power, a company based in Sheffield, UK, which manufacturers electrolysers and supplies fuel cell systems, reports that its annual revenues have increased from £8,000 in the year ending April 2011 to £480,000 for the year ending April 2012.
The company has seen a growth in interest in the hydrogen industry in general in recent months, which CEO Graham Cooley believes can be attributed to a public awareness that battery vehicles will not deliver everything they have promised, due to limited range and battery life.
“There’s been a very significant pickup [in interest in hydrogen] over the last year,” he says.
There is also an increased interest in using hydrogen for storing surplus power from renewable energy in hydrogen, he says.
Fuel cell vs batteries
Mr Cooley believes that fuel cell vehicles make more efficient use of the source fuel than battery + electric vehicles, whether the source fuel is gas, wind or solar.
If original source is gas, then it can be used to run a vehicle more efficiently if the gas is reformed to hydrogen and run through a fuel cell, compared to combusting the gas in a turbine to generate electricity, to run an electric motor, he believes.
If the original source of power is wind or solar, then Mr Cooley believes that charging a battery vehicle from it directly is impractical – because the supply is intermittent. Or instead of taking 6 hours to charge, it might take 18 hours.
A further advantage of hydrogen storage over battery is that hydrogen storage also gets cheaper per unit of energy stored the larger the tank is, he says.
If you consider that if you double the length, width and height of a tank, you will use 4 x as much materials to make the tank (so cost multiplies by 4), but the volume will be 8 times as much.
With a battery, if you double the storage volume, you double the cost, he says.
Surplus renewables power
There is a big growth in interest in using hydrogen to store surplus power from renewables, Mr Cooley says.
Excess electricity can be put through an electrolyser to make hydrogen, he says. This hydrogen can then be added directly to the natural gas grid (which is allowed to contain up to 5 per cent hydrogen), or put through a fuel cell later to make electricity.
The company is involved in a feasibility study to look at injecting hydrogen gas from excess renewables into the UK gas networks, in partnership with Scottish Hydrogen Fuel Cell Association and UK low carbon consultancy Kiwa Gastec.
It is much harder to balance electricity supply and demand with renewables than it is with coal power, Mr Cooley says.
With coal power stations, you can adjust the speed of a generation turbine from between 48 to 52 hertz (2880 to 3120 rotations per minute) to draw less or more power from it. The usual speed is 50 hertz / 300 rpm.
But wind and renewable power does not offer any flexibility at all – a turbine or solar panel is either on or off. This makes it very hard to balance electricity supply with demand.
ITM is developing 1 megawatt electrolysers which can be installed inside a standard 20-foot box container, using surplus electricity to make hydrogen. It can produce 400 kg of hydrogen a day.
The company anticipates that there will be an emerging demand for large scale electrolysers for this purpose.
Company CEO Graham Cooley has an in-depth understanding of grid flexibility, since his previous role was business development manager for future plant at National Power, a UK power company which once owned 52 per cent of the UK’s generating market, and is now owned by German utility RWE and renamed RWE nPower).
Another major demand for hydrogen technology in future will be for hydrogen generators which can run on electricity, to generate hydrogen for materials handling systems (fork lift trucks) or vehicles, ITM believes.
ITM has developed a range of electrolysers for this purpose.
It recently supplied an electrolyser and fuel cells for a materials handling trial with UK retailer Marks and Spencer, which ran for 6 weeks in April 2012. Marks and Spencer wanted to compare using an electrolyser + fuel cells with using batteries.
You can see a 5 minute video about Marks and Spencer’s experience with the fuel cells on YouTube here.
“Coming onto site and seeing these [fuel cell powered materials handling units] work has been absolutely brilliant,” says Ian Hardy, M&S Bradford DC site trainer, on the video.
“I've seen these literally outrun the batteries.”
“We've had the vehicles on site for 6 months and given the materials some 'stick'. These vehicles have never stopped. We’ve had no breakdowns whatsoever. The idea of charging something and it lasts 12-18 hours is so cost effective it’s unbelievable.”
“I prefer it to the battery truck, you don’t have to keep taking it to a battery change. It lasts all day. So no problems at all,” says Tony Kulikovsky, a warehouse operative, on the video.
“There is a great amount of governance and stringent health and safety which has gone into this,” says Alastair Hill, head of primary transport with M&S. “I'm sure when the trucks become available for work, there's a few people trying to get there first.”
Following the trial, Marks and Spencer will do a comprehensive data analysis and decide if it wants to use the trucks on a permanent basis.
ITM does not manufacture the fuel cells itself. It is exclusive European partner for Infintium fuel cell, a Texas company which makes fuel cells for materials handling.
ITM has a leading role in the Ecoisland project, which aims to generate and use hydrogen from renewable energies, on the Isle of Wight, off the South Coast of the UK.
The Ecoisland project will create hydrogen for sale at £5 per kg. ITM says that in terms of cost per mile travelled, a hydrogen cost of £8.5 per kg is equivalent to today’s highly taxed UK gasoline cost.
Because the hydrogen will be moved from the generating plant to the supply station in pipelines, there will be no greenhouse gas emissions associated with its transportation, apart from a small amount of gas compression.
The entire project will cost £4.66m. ITM has a £1.3m grant from the UK government backed Technology Strategy Board, which ran a ‘Fuel Cells and Hydrogen: Whole System Integration’ competition for research and development funding.
The hydrogen will be generated using renewable energy which is surplus to requirements (for example wind power generated overnight).
There will be a 15kg / day hydrogen fuelling station for boats on the South coast of the island, and a 100kg/day unit in the centre of the island for fuelling vehicles, which will be provided by Hyundai, Microcab and River Simple.
The refuellers and system integration will be provided by ITM Power.
Also involved in the project is EcoIsland Partners, SSE, Toshiba, IBM, Cable and Wireless and Cheetah Marine, as well as National Physical Laboratory, Arcola Energy, and the Universities of Glamorgan and Nottingham.
Toshiba will ensure compatibility of the hydrogen system with its Energy Management System and the Distribution Network Operator (“DNO”) networks, enabling it to actively participate in the energy balancing of the distribution network in future.
IBM will develop a user interface to allow smart card payments facilities to the refuellers to meter and monitor hydrogen provision.
Cable & Wireless Worldwide will provide communications to allow remote monitoring of both refueller and vehicles and allow data collection and data cloud integration.
National Physical Laboratory will develop hydrogen purity tests to ensure compliance with FCEV requirements (ISO14687-2).
Arcola Energy will develop an educational and dissemination package and will provide public and commercial engagement activities.
Cheetah Marine will build a hydrogen catamaran in conjunction with ITM Power and operate it in validation trials.
ITM Power was founded in June 2004, with flotation on the UK’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in June 2004, which raised £10m, with a business plan to manufacture PEM electrolysers.
A secondary funding in May 2006 raised £29m.
It had to wait until June 2010 for its first product sale, a hydrogen electrolyser for the University of Birmingham. In April 2011, it sold its first small scale hydrogen production system to the University of Nottingham making 4kg of hydrogen a day.
It won a £440k grant from the European Union to “develop equipment for process heat applications” in November 2011.
In January 2012, it was part of the UK’s “H2 Mobility Initiative”, involving a number of hydrogen infrastructure companies, car companies and 3 government departments covering business (BIS), energy (DECC) and transport (DFT).
A pilot agreement was signed in January 2012 with UK retailer Marks and Spencer for a hydrogen fuel cell materials handling trial.
In February 2012 it signed an equipment development and lease agreement with Boeing to develop an off-grid electrolyser generating 2.1kg a day for unmanned aircraft systems (“drones”).
In April 2012 it launched its ‘megawatt scale’ energy storage plant.