A pioneering plan to produce green hydrogen offshore will be trialed at the Kincardine floating wind project off Scotland that’s set to be the world’s largest so far when it comes online this year.

The Dolphyn wind-to-hydrogen project plans to deploy a 2MW prototype system at the Kincardine site 15km off Aberdeen from 2024, producing renewable H2 that will be pumped back to the city that made its name as the capital of the UK oil and gas industry.

Three years later the Dolphyn team hopes to install a 10MW prototype version at the site, project director Kevin Kinsella confirmed to Recharge.

The UK government-backed initiative, led by consultancy ERM, aims to desalinate seawater and use it to produce hydrogen via electrolysis, in a process powered by the offshore wind turbine that sits on each Dolphyn floating platform, based on a design by floating wind pioneer Principle Power.

Recharge was first to report in 2019 how the project team believes the concept has the potential to be scaled-up to a 4GW array in the North Sea, as a first step to theoretically replacing natural gas with green hydrogen across the entire UK energy system.

Kinsella told Recharge the first deployment will use a reconditioned 2MW MHI Vestas turbine, subject to an investment decision by ERM next year.

Aberdeen advantage

Kinsella added that both Aberdeen and Kincardine offered advantages for Dolphyn over other potential sites such as Orkney.

“Aberdeen has an ambitious plan for growing the local hydrogen economy, also the new harbour and the energy transition zone offer interesting opportunities for hydrogen.

“The offshore wind resources are great, and [there is also] the availability of two free slots at Kincardine. Our [platform] is the same design as they have consent for already, so that makes it a bit easier.” The project still needs consent for the hydrogen pipeline, said Kinsella.

ERM is also talking to potential partners over plans to scale-up the project.

“We’re talking to potential investors at the moment,” Kinsella said. “It’s a mixture including oil and gas companies, energy companies and private equity.”

Development of the UK’s long-gestating Kincardine project sparked to life in late 2018 following running-in of its 2MW scout turbine, but the full 50MW project is at last being brought online this year.

Kincardine Offshore Windfarm Ltd (KOWL), majority owned by Spanish construction company Cobra, which took over the project from Pilot Offshore Resources in 2016, is developing the £300m ($394m) array around five 8.5MW MHI Vestas V164 turbines.

The project had once been racing to beat the 30MW Statoil Hywind Scotland array – which was brought online in September 2017 – to first power, but fell foul of “difficulties” between original turbine supplier Senvion and Cobra.

High-stakes hydrogen

The ability to produce green hydrogen offshore independently of the power system and export gas rather than electricity is seen as one of the big potential wins of the energy transition, removing the need for electrical infrastructure that can add hugely to the complexity and costs of projects.

Green hydrogen from electrolysis is seen by many as the only 100%-clean way to decarbonise energy-intensive sectors such as heating and transport, avoiding the use of so-called blue H2 from abated fossil fuels.

A recent study by the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult claimed an offshore wind-led green hydrogen boom could “match the best years of the North sea oil & gas sector”.

However, the British government was last week warned by industry association RenewableUK that it needs to move faster than planned to unveil a national strategy for hydrogen – hailed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the UK's emissions-cutting ‘big bet’ – or risk seeing a chance for global leadership in the key energy transition fuel evaporate.