UK firm B9 eyes hydrogen as gas plant alternative

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s B9 Gas is exploring hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative cheap, low-carbon way to generate electricity instead of burning gas, the clean fossil-fuel company said on Wednesday.

Although gas-fired power plants emit much less carbon than coal plants, the Committee on Climate Change has called for carbon capture and storage (CCS) to be fitted to gas plants as well as coal to cut the output of climate warming gases.

B9 Gas plans on building a plant to convert natural gas to hydrogen, which removes carbon and allows it to be buried, similar to pre-combustion coal CCS which removes the carbon from coal, turning it into a gas.

But while the resulting coal CCS synthetic gas is burned in a conventional gas turbine, the hydrogen would instead be fed to a fuel cell which would transform the hydrogen to electricity with heat and water as the by-products.

“We feel that this project has the potential to greatly aid the UK Government in its stated aim of showing global leadership in demonstrating carbon capture and storage technologies,” B9 director Alisa Murphy said in a statement.

“The fuel cell could quickly supersede gas turbine power generation globally.”

Working with fuel cell maker AFC Energy, B9 Gas estimates the combined technology would capture 99 percent of the carbon, while the power generation technology could be cheaper than conventional gas-fired plants.

“I believe that the capital cost of a conventional gas turbine is roughly 550,000 pounds ($835,800) per megawatt (MW), AFC Energy’s fuel cell is currently at 300,000 pounds per MW,” Murphy said in an interview after the statement was released.

B9 Gas said it was in talks to acquire an existing hydrogen plant which could be modified to produce fuel for power generation. The plant could be operational in three years and is expected to produce 15,000 tonnes of hydrogen a year and have hydrogen and CCS storage facilities, the company added.

Although large scale CCS for power generation is still unproven, it is seen as a way to reduce Britain’s carbon emissions if targets of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels are to be hit.

As well as decarbonising the power sector, car makers also cite hydrogen fuel cells as a technology which could reduce carbon emissions in transport.

Reporting by Kwok W. Wan; editing by Keiron Henderson