Project lead: Shapinsay Development Trust
Location: Orkney Islands
Local Energy Challenge Fund award amount: £25,000


The community of Shapinsay tasked Shapinsay Development Trust to address the severe curtailment experienced by its community owned turbine because of active network management and to investigate methods by which this curtailed capacity could be redeployed in an innovative manner. Given the level of agricultural activity on Shapinsay and the demand for diesel fuel and fertiliser, the project offered a natural community fit.

Project aims and objectives

The cost of shipping diesel and fertiliser to Shapinsay was high. This project aimed to solve the problem by demonstrating how spare electricity generated by the island’s wind turbine could be used to produce synthetic diesel for local farm transport and urea for fertiliser.

The project aimed to connect a rapid response PEM electrolyser to the turbine (behind the meter) and operate this at times of curtailment. A Fischer-Tropsch (FT) reactor would also be used to produce synthetic diesel by combining stored hydrogen with CO2 (carbon dioxide) produced at a local distillery to produce synthetic diesel that could be used for transport.

The project would also combine N2 (nitrogen) from the air by using pressure swing absorption and would combine this with H2 (hydrogen gas) to produce ammonia. This could then be combined with additional CO2 to produce urea (fertiliser) for use in farms throughout the islands.

Local Energy Challenge Fund application

The Shapinsay Development Trust applied for Local Energy Challenge Fund phase 1 funding on behalf a consortium that included:

  • Shapinsay Development Trust
  • ITM Power plc
  • The University of Sheffield
  • Business Process Engineers
  • Community Energy Scotland.

It was anticipated that an additional partner, most likely a distillery, would be added to be the supplier of CO2.

Activities undertaken

ITM Power identified and applied design changes including salt environment protection; these would be needed for any PEM electrolyser deployed in an island environment and where blown spray would be an issue. ITM Power analysed flow modelling and then undertook more detailed project modelling to feed into an Aspen model for diesel production. It undertook similar modelling for producing urea. It also advised on the design of the urea reactor by drawing upon previous project experience.

ITM Power investigated CO2 capture from the air. The consortium engaged with Climeworks from Switzerland, and Calvera from Spain, with a view to them joining the project if this source of CO2 was chosen.

Business Process Engineers collaborated with ITM Power and the University of Sheffield to determine and design the CapEx and OpEx models which might reasonably be expected in phase 2. It also obtained quotations for equipment and components needed prior to deployment, and identified specifications for compressors and N2 separators required for phase 2 development and deployment.

The University of Sheffield worked with all partners to evolve their FT reactor design ready for deployment in an island location, offered technical support in other areas, and discussed the project at several academic conferences. The University also collaborated with ITM Power and Business Process Engineers on upscaling both FT and urea reactors for final use. The University advised on the removal of impurities from distillery-derived CO2 and identified methods to remove impurities based on information from industry sources.

Shapinsay Development Trust undertook studies and engaged with Orcadian and other distilleries as the preferred route to source a regular supply of CO2 for the project. The trust undertook a negative aspect study and liaised with local fertiliser suppliers to determine market reaction and eagerness to become engaged with local urea production. The trust also engaged with Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to determine the regulatory regime which would be applied to the project and with island farmers to ensure a ready market for any synthetic diesel and urea which might be produced. The trust also worked with the Scottish Agricultural College to better understand fertiliser usage in Orkney.

Community Energy Scotland liaised with Scottish and Southern Electricity (SSE) regarding electrolyser connection and determined response times between curtailment and activation of an electrolyser. Community Energy Scotland offered advice on block exemption rules, and provided advanced data derived from collated SCADA data which fed into project modelling undertaken by ITM Power and Business Process Engineers.

All partners contributed to information events during the course of their work on the project.

Summary of results

Considerable progress was made on upscaling a Fisher Tropsch (FT) reactor for practical use, and on upscaling previously deployed urea reactors.

It became clear that before CO2 could be successfully captured from distilleries, it would be necessary to determine:

  • the precise point at which the CO2 could be captured
  • the method of capture and storage which should be used (with special regard for space constraints at distilleries)
  • the method and extent of cleaning that is required impurities prior to its use in any chemical reaction.

A study of direct capture of CO2 from the air indicated that the life expectancy of equipment in an island environment would need particular attention.

Engagement with local farmers and fertiliser suppliers indicated that both are eager to engage in new methods of procuring (synthetic) diesel and fertiliser, provided that costs are at least comparable with existing products and that efficacy and safety was proven. Locally, the agricultural industry also appeared eager to engage in testing.

SEPA engaged enthusiastically with the project, and in principle indicated that exemptions granted to biodiesel might reasonably be extended to small-scale community production of synthetic diesel, hydrogen, and urea which individually fall below 200 tonnes per annum, thus negating the need for a full PPC Permit for local production at a small scale.

Enthusiastic public support for the project’s aims was evident at all events where it was presented.

Although the project was unsuccessful for second round LECF funding, the work completed and associations made during the project did contribute to Shapinsay Development Trust becoming a member of the FCHJU-funded BIG HIT project; this would result in the deployment of a 1MW PEM electrolyser in Shapinsay and in the innovative reclamation of the lost (curtailed) capacity, albeit applied to different uses.