VUB is a key partner in a multi-million-euro project to bring energy independency to remote communities in North-West Europe

GenComm (GENerating energy secure COMMunities through smart renewable hydrogen) intends to deal with the energy sustainability challenges of remote communities across North-West Europe. The idea is to use renewable energy sources for the production and storage of hydrogen. The project will demonstrate the commercial maturity of hydrogen technologies and the viability as a sustainable energy solution for heat, power and transport. The focus on remote communities will reduce the imbalance between urban and rural areas, which is a key aspect of the EU cohesion policy.

Three renewable-powered pilot plants will be developed to produce hydrogen. Despite the low round trip efficiency of hydrogen storage, its energy storage capacity is very high. One kilogram of hydrogen contains approximately 200 times the energy of a one kilogram lithium-ion battery. Next to that, the use of (idle) renewable energy replaces fossil fuels in the hydrogen production process, resulting in renewable hydrogen. This makes hydrogen the ideal candidate for large-scale energy storage, and will therefore be integrated in the pilot plants.

The pilot plants will be powered by bio-, solarand wind energy to produce renewable hydrogen.

The bioenergy plant is located in Stornoway, on the Western isles of Scotland. Biodegradable waste will be converted into biogas in an anaerobic digester (no oxygen used in the digesting process). The biogas will fuel a Combined Heat and Power plant (CHP), which will produce the electricity required to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolyzer. The hydrogen gas will be used in a hydrogen CHP, while the oxygen is reused in the processing of the waste, which leads to a circular economy.

The solar panels will be installed in Saarbrücken (Germany), where the solar power is used to create hydrogen in an electrolyzer. The hydrogen will be compressed and sent to the fuel dispenser, ready to fuel hydrogen-powered vehicles.

The large scale wind-based pilot plant is located in County Antrim, in Northern Ireland, where it will produce hydrogen to be stored in high pressure tanks. The stored hydrogen can then reproduce the electricity in a fuel cell as and when required.

The data coming from the three pilot plants will be integrated in a technical and financial model. These two models form the foundation of a decision support tool that helps its users to assemble their renewable energy production. The tool will be the guide for remote communities towards sustainability and energy independency.

BURN is in charge of the modelling and optimization of the technical model, integrated in the decision support tool. The group is represented by Prof. Francesco Contino, co-head of BURN, and PhD student Diederik Coppitters. They collaborate with four universities (the lead partner Belfast Metropolitan college, National University of Ireland Galway, ENSICAEN and INSA Rouen Normandie), the research institute IZES gGmbH and four industrial partners (Viridian Energy Supply Limited, Williams Industrial services, Pure Energy Centre and TK Renewables).