The MaREI centre and hydrogen by Brian Ó Gallachóir

MaREI is the SFI Research Centre for energy, climate and marine research and innovation, comprising internationally recognised experts from 13 third level and research institutes in Ireland who engage with stakeholders across more than 36 countries. MaREI comprises over 220 researchers working with over 70 industry partners, and our research focuses on the energy transition, climate action and the blue economy. MaREI’s ambition is to deliver excellent research that has significant societal impact with particular emphasis on supporting business, informing policy and empowering society.

MaREI’s research focus on hydrogen is growing and deepening due to a number of key reasons. Our research on offshore renewable energy, including offshore wind, tidal and wave energy points to a massive and untapped renewable energy potential all around Ireland. However our research on energy systems modelling highlights the challenges in integrating these variable resources and the non-synchronous electricity they generate into our power system. Hydrogen production can help address these engineering challenges.

MaREI research on reducing the climate change impacts of transport also lead us to a focus on hydrogen. While private car transport can be and is being (slowly) electrified, heavy goods vehicles, shipping and aviation are likely to require liquid or gaseous fuels and hydrogen is an emerging contender.

As we seek to increasingly increase our ambition in climate action, not just in Ireland, but also internationally, the focus on hydrogen as part of the energy transition solutions of the future is growing strongly. Hydrogen is bountiful in supply but is not easy or cheap to harness.  Hydrogen usage produces no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases, but hydrogen production can have negative environmental impacts depending how it’s produced. Hydrogen has a very high specific energy value (energy per unit mass) but low energy density (energy per unit volume).

MaREI recently organised a workshop to share different research insights on hydrogen from different MaREI research teams and industry partners. The workshop discussed hydrogen production cost estimates from UCC of approx. €2/kgH2 for blue hydrogen (produced by steam reforming of natural gas along with carbon capture and storage). This was compared with €3-5/kgH2  for green hydrogen (produced by electrolysis using renewable sources). UCC researchers also discussed the recently started ElectroFuels in A Circular Economy (EFACE) project that is one of the SFI Zero Emissions Challenges. Participants also discussed research in DCU on fuel cells and electrolysers and hydrogen mobility and research in NUIG on hydrogen supply chains, including the GenComm project. The workshop included industry and round table discussions focussed on identifying the drivers and barriers to the H2 economy in Ireland. 

MaREI is currently exploring development of a research programme to address some of the challenges, reduce costs and harness the opportunities and advantages that hydrogen offers.

Brian Ó Gallachóir is Director of the SFI MaREI Centre and Professor of Energy Engineering at University College Cork.

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