The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2006 Finalist

Promoting Unst's Renewable Energy (PURE) Project

Promoting Unst's Renewable Energy (PURE) Project

Using wind generated electricity to convert water into hydrogen  

The PURE Project demonstrates an off-grid stand-alone system, which allows wind generated electricity to convert water into hydrogen. The hydrogen is then bottled and kept for converting back into electricity as and when required - producing water as the only waste product from the entire process. The cycle can then be repeated. The PURE Project has shown that such renewable infrastructures offer unique opportunities for communities to achieve energy security by satisfying their own local energy needs from local energy production and thereby tying energy consumers into the necessity of living within their energy means. The PURE Energy Centre on Unst is now committed to turning its broader vision into a reality, and will use all its resources and future income in pursuit of this objective.

PURE Reality

The PURE Project was conceived by a young Shetland engineering graduate, Ross Gazey. Ross believed that it would provide him, and others from remote communities in the Highlands & Islands, with new technical skills and the knowledge required to start new businesses, create employment, and deliver secure sustainable energy. In May 2005, the PURE Project located on the most northerly Shetland Island of Unst, was inaugurated as the first off-grid renewable hydrogen system in Europe and the first community owned hydrogen production plant in the world. The PURE system offers a practical operational alternative energy system, which burns no fossil fuels and has zero carbon emissions – and thereby delivers energy security at a local level. The design rational necessitated energy efficiency and energy conservation measures, the reduction to a minimum of “on-demand” electrical power, and the use of a small, modest performance fuel cell car.

The immediate benefit of the PURE Project to the Unst community has been the creation of high quality jobs and the inward migration of a skilled workforce. The Project has provided unprecedented publicity for the island and for Shetland in general. The Shetland community has been described by international hydrogen industry experts as being “pioneers in this ground-breaking technology”. The PURE Project has also spawned new sustainable businesses. The most significant of these is the PURE Energy Centre Ltd., and its first spin-out company PUREShetland. The latter company has attracted around £50,000 of private sponsorship from within Shetland for developing a super-efficient hydrogen fuel cell car as part of an educational project with local schools.

Logically, hydrogen applications such as fuel cells currently being developed worldwide require a sustainable source of hydrogen to support their use. The PURE Hydrogen Production Unit (Hypod) is currently the only proven off-grid system, which can deliver such a sustainable source of hydrogen from a renewable energy input – solar, wind or hydro.

PURE Vision

The PURE project has demonstrated that renewable hydrogen on a small scale is a niche market opportunity for businesses in remote communities. There is a growing political and public demand to have tangible, visible, hydrogen projects now. Such projects help promote the technology, develop relevant technical skills, and contribute to building a   hydrogen transport refuelling infrastructure within the region. Currently the larger motor manufacturers with prototype hydrogen vehicles are still using reformed hydrogen which causes substantial carbon emissions during its production.

At present the principal market for pre-commercial and prototype renewable hydrogen systems is one supported by public sector finance. However, the PURE Project has shown how investment at community level delivers far greater value for public investment in this technology than in very costly projects involving conventional car and bus manufacturers and oil companies. A renewable hydrogen infrastructure, based around small scale community owned hydrogen production units, can deliver these same strategic development objectives anywhere in the world, providing a radically different energy infrastructure to that which is conventionally supported by the oil, gas, coal, and nuclear industries. This vision allows distributed energy generation to become a reality, and enables energy consumers to become more involved in energy production.

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