It is becoming ever clearer that hydrogen has a huge part to play in the transition from fossil fuels. And Bill Ireland, managing director of Logan Energy, has been among its leading exponents for years.
There are folks who spout hot air about the over-hyped hydrogen economy. Then there is Bill Ireland, the Edinburgh based business figure who has been the sage of fuel cell systems for over 20 years and an exponent on the deployment of integrated hydrogen-based energy systems.
His company, Logan Energy, has been expanding and he has moved to a new suite in the GRID building at Heriot-Watt University. On an unlikely sunny November afternoon, a giggling group of Chinese students are grabbing selfies by the GRID’s lochan, while local families with toddlers in pushchairs are feeding the swans and the ducks.
Upstairs, past students working in an electronics laboratory, in the GRID’s glass-fronted open-planned office space, a whiteboard with ‘Urgent’ marked in red marker pen shows a neat catalogue of projects and proposals that are going out the door.
Logan Energy has been undertaking work in Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, France, the Canary Islands, Germany and Italy. The manufacturing and production base remains at Wallyford in East Lothian expanding to handle and train the increasing headcount of over 50 engineering and office staff, while there are plans to expand the industrial estate site.
If Britain’s political leaders had real foresight they would ask someone like Bill Ireland to take on a combined portfolio across both Energy and Transport Ministries to break down the barriers that are dogging the zero-carbon agenda.
“A lack of joined-up thinking is holding back the massive roll-out of hydrogen for public and private transport. At Logan Energy, we are trying to do this joined-up thinking. As human beings we categorise stuff and compartmentalise it. For instance, I was speaking to an energy minister from the Middle East and raised an issue on fuel cells for buses and he said: ‘That’s not my remit, that’s dealt with by the department of transport!’ It’s the same problem in Britain.
“There is too much silo-thinking. Hydrogen breaks all the barriers because it can be used for trans- port, for cooking, for heating, regenerating electricity, chemical feedstock and energy storage.”
Logan Energy, during Ireland’s watch, has been at the forefront of carbon-neutral energy systems since installing and maintaining over 1.3MW of fuel cells system providing combined cooling heat and power (CCHP) in buildings such as Transport for London’s Palestra building and the iconic Walkie-Talkie building at 20 Fenchurch Street in the City of London, nearly 15 years ago.
Ireland and his then colleague John Lidderdale were among the prophets of this technology, extol- ling the carbon-neutral benefits in the Levenmouth Community Energy Project, a pilot demonstration project in Methil in Fife. This was a world first that was curtailed by a short-sighted slashing of funding. Nevertheless, the Levenmouth project, partly funded by the Scottish Government and Toshiba, and supported by Fife Council, proved that integration, via a microgrid, worked and was scalable.
With a prolonged war in Ukraine causing an energy crisis across Europe and domestic and business misery created by massive hikes in oil and gas, more people are scurrying to find solutions, and many see hydrogen as a panacea.
Bill Ireland maintains that hydrogen is only a part of the energy future, not the complete picture. But he remains frustrated that it is taking so long to unbundle the confusion and inertia over hydrogen’s deployment.
“Actually, the cost of producing renewable energy is not going up. Recently we’ve seen recognition from our political leaders that the cost of electricity should not be tied to oil and gas prices. We need to decouple these energy prices so that renewable energy is not priced in line with the movements of oil and gas. We’ve been talking about the need for this for years, but we are now hearing it from our political leaders.”
He says if more businesses cooperate and produce all of their energy themselves, using renewables including wind power, solar, and hydrogen they are independent of oil and gas prices, which gives security of supply and cost.
The move to Heriot-Watt University is part of an ambition to take hydrogen-energy systems and their applications into the heart of the university’s technology expertise.
“We know there are great synergies in being out here at Riccarton. There is the immediate access to collaboration with academics and we can share our practical experience showing that the hydrogen industry is an exciting place to be.”
As the hydrogen industry becomes fully-fledged, there is a massive shortfall in talent and understanding about the almost endless possibilities.
“One of the issues for us is recruiting young practically minded people into the new hydrogen age. We want to work with the university to build a practical partnership to ensure that research scientists start to consider the options and the problem-solving opportunities with hydrogen systems.”
The company, which is now chaired by former SSE chief executive Ian Marchant, one of its private investors, has come a long way since its early formation as an agnostic energy consultancy.
So too has the industry in the UK. Hydrogen fuel cell companies, such as Ceres Power Holdings, (market cap £609 million), founded by lithium battery pioneer Brian Steele, from Imperial College London; ITM Power plc, (market cap £513 million), founded in 2001 in Sheffield, and upstarts, such as AFC, based in Surrey, have been gaining investment interest.
Logan Energy, currently looking to raise around £3 to £5 million for further expansion, is pursuing a different tack as joined-up system integrators using its hydrogen system equipment to store hydrogen to be used when renewable solar and wind are at a low ebb.
“Ceres Power and ITM are all about developing new technology and products that we can use in the future. There is a lot of interest around proton exchange membrane (PEM) and solid oxide electrolysers and this has been the buzz technology and people have been investing in it. However, the proven technology that has been around for nearly a century is alkaline electrolysers, and those developing commercial projects are looking at alkaline.”
“From our point of view, we deliver systems that work, are reliable and guaranteed as far as their costs, maintenance and performance are concerned. We need this to deliver commercially. From this standpoint we are currently using alkaline electrolysers.”
Ireland is quick to add that Logan Energy continues with its own innovation – which is a fundamental aspect of the company – but that for commercial applications, they recommend and deliver tried and tested hydrogen solutions.
Logan Energy has been increasing its commercial projects with local authorities and public sector bodies seeking to judge the benefits of using hydrogen but he says: “We are gaining more and more commercial customers and a lot of this is repeat business”.
One project is creating green hydrogen from a windfarm north of Belfast. The gas is then compressed, put on to trailers and taken to a refuelling station owned by Energia and used by Translink, the Northern Irish local bus and rail group.
“We won the delivery of all of these components, which involved three different contracts.” Alongside, Logan Energy has delivered the largest refuelling station in Europe, also for Translink, which can dispense up to four tonnes a day and currently refuels 20 fuel cell powered buses overnight. Bill Ireland is also excited by the prospect of more motor manufacturers looking at hydrogen combustion engines for power generation as an alternative to diesel fuel.
“The energy issue is massive and often too complex to contemplate. Yet we need to be moving away from our reliance on hydrocarbon oil and gas in a transformational way. It is not just the Stop Oil motorway campaigners who are saying we are not doing this quickly enough; it is industry experts.
We are converting a tiny number of buses in the UK, but whole fleets of public transport vehicles – including delivery trucks and bin lorries – must be turned over to zero emission fuel and we need to be looking at this infrastructure and future replacement now. The stakes are high and we know that hydrogen is a key part of the solution.”
Hydrogen will be game-changer in whisky industry for Arbikie Distillery
Scotland’s whisky industry requires the massive consumption of energy to boil the stills to make alcohol. A hydrogen project in Angus is set to be a game-changer. Brothers John, Iain and David Stirling are the visionaries and driving force behind Arbikie Distillery, which is using wind and solar energy.
The brothers grew up working around the farm, and it is this hands-on experience that gave them a deep understanding and respect for the land. However, the brothers asked Logan Energy to help them establish a more integrated sustainable approach using green hydrogen.
Bill Ireland explains: “The distillery has a small electricity demand but a large heat demand. It also has tractors and other distillery vehicles. This project at Arbikie is focused on decarbonising the whisky and drinks sector and is opening up opportunities to decarbonised the whole energy usage across the farm.”
Wind farms are unpredictable. However, Logan Energy analyses the weather data to map typical years of solar and wind. “We can then match that to the electricity, heat and transport demand for the distillery. We get a profile of direct use. Most of the distillery’s energy requirements cannot be generated by renewables alone as the generation and load profiles do not match. Hydrogen fills the gap.”
Logan Energy is looking to amalgamate this into ‘hydrogen’ demand and complete the project, part funded by BEIS, in summer 2023. “We fill this gap with stored hydrogen switching on when it is required.”
“We have been given the green light to install a green hydrogen energy system at the distillery, comprising a 1MW wind turbine, electrolyser, hydrogen storage and hydrogen boiler system. This project is in collaboration with Logan Energy, and sustainable specialists, Locogen. It will allow us to move away from traditional distilling fuels and instead, use zero-carbon green hydrogen generated on-site,” says John Stirling, co-owner of Arbikie Distillery.
Stirling believes this has the potential to transform the distilling industry. “We aim to be one of the world’s most sustainable distilleries so being able to use green hydrogen power will be another significant step on our sustainability journey.”
Ireland says: “The idea is that if it is successful, which I have no doubt that it will be, the next phases will be commercial development, not only for Arbikie but for a number of other Scottish distilleries and industries.”
He adds this will help many manufacturers who are suffering massively through gas and red diesel price increases. The prospects for Scotland’s massive whisky industry to become completely zero- carbon emissions are tantalising for Bill Ireland and Logan Energy.
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