UC Irvine Implements New Way to Store and Use Surplus Sustainable Energy

Dec 14, 2016 04:58 AM EST

Engineers from the University of California, Irvine have successfully implemented a new technique capable of converting and using the excess energy from solar panels or wind farms.

The new technique, dubbed as power-to-gas hydrogen pipeline injection, showed the excess sustainable energy, which would otherwise go to waste, can be converted into hydrogen that can be blended with natural gas and be used in everything from home appliances to power plants.

"One of the big challenges we've faced in adding wind and solar to the grid is what to do with the excess electricity," Jack Brouwer, associate director of the Advanced Power & Energy Program (APEP) at UC Irvine, in a statement. "We've shown you need not halt renewable power generation when demand is low. Instead, the excess electricity can be used to make hydrogen that can be easily integrated into existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure."

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For the P2G project, UCI facilities management technicians and APEP engineers install the new equipment adjacent to the power plant located in the campus. The central component of the conversion process is the electrolyzer. The electrolyzer takes in water and uses the excess sustainable energy to power an electrochemical reaction, splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen.

While the excess oxygen is released in the atmosphere, the hydrogen is compressed and sent about 60 feet through a pencil-thin, stainless steel tube to an injection point in UCI's natural gas pipeline. The hydrogen is then is mixed with natural gas and then burned in the gas turbine power plant to generate electricity and heat in the campus.

According to a press release from SoCalGas, the hydrogen from the sustainable energy and water could be converted into methane. This methane can then be injected into a natural gas pipeline system for storage. In the SoCalGas territory alone, more than 12 terawatt-hours of electric equivalent storage can be accommodated.

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