Keeping the lights on: sustainable zero carbon energy generation and load cells

Published On: September 4 2023

The recent extreme climate events have focussed the world’s attention on the urgent need for sustainable energy solutions. We’ve been covering a whole range of green energy solutions that use load cells over the years, from green hydrogen to flying kites. It’s an exciting field and we’re proud that load cells like ours are playing a role in so many ground-breaking innovations.


Green hydrogen

As we reported recently, load cells play an important role in electrolysers used to separate water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen. Electrolysers consist of stacks of anode and cathode plates separated by a membrane. For maximum efficiency, the plates need to be held as a fixed preload tension. Load cells can be used to monitor all aspects of the pressure applied by long tie-rods that keep the plates in place, including the tension, resistance, weight and load.

As one expert explained:

“Long-term force monitoring (can) trigger any sort of maintenance work as needed, rather than on a regularly scheduled basis. That equates to large savings, large reduction in personnel investment to maintain the electrolyzer stacks, and less overall downtime.”


Kite energy

This is one of our all-time favourite client projects. Back in 2018 we we worked with a Scottish company at the cutting edge of Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) production. AWE relies on the very action we probably found most annoying as a kid when flying a kite; the twisting action of the kite circling in high winds. By flying to altitudes of up to 1000metres, as opposed to the average wind turbine that reaches just 100 metres, AWE kites can take advantage on considerably more available power.

Read more here on our wind energy blog.


Wind turbines

Wind turbines are now a familiar sight whether we drive past them or glimpse them gently turning offshore. Much as we might dislike it, windy weather has its advantages. On Friday 30 December 2022, the UK’s wind farms generated a record-breaking 21GW (20.918GW) , even through the average wind speeds that day were a mere 14mph.The National Grid announced that on that day, more than 87% of the UK’s energy generation was zero-carbon.

Load cells are used to test all parts of a wind turbine, from the mounting platform load to the structure of the turbine blade. In one innovative solution, they were used test the moorings for floating wind turbines, and they are also frequently used to test and monitor turbine securing bolts.

Read more here on our wind turbines blog.

Wind turbine blades must be carefully balanced to operate at their maximum efficiency. We were delighted to discover that a major blade testing site was just down the road from us in Hampshire, owned by a Danish company who design and test their wind turbine blades at the site.

Read more here on our weighing wind turbines blog.

One of our favourite wind turbine stories tackles a very different issue. Wind turbine blades have a lifespan of up to 30 years, but they cannot easily be recycled. We discovered one innovative company that are turning these massive blades in foot bridges – and using load cells to test them.


Wave power

Another form of green energy also relies on firm moorings: wave power. A paper published by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) described a “Self-Synchronizing Underwater Acoustic Network” which features multiple connected nodes. The innovative aspect of the system is the adaptability of these nodes:

“A node can be connected to a load cell, to a topside user or to the WEC. Every node is swapable. The protocol adaptor board, named Protocol Adaptor for Digital LOad Cell (PADLOC) supports a variety of digital load cell message formats (CAN, MODBUS, custom ASCII) and underwater acoustic modem serial formats. PADLOC enables topside users to connect to separate load cells through a user-specific command.”


Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is officially classed as zero carbon. The new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, Somerset is set to generate 3,200MW of zero carbon electricity, sufficient to power 6million homes, and resulting in 9 million tonnes of C02 avoided each year.

Apart from the power station itself, work has been going on in the Bristol Channel to build the water inlet for the heat sinks. Load cells were no doubt in action in this complex and delicate lifting and positioning project, as show in EDF’s video:

According to one manufacturer, load cells are used in a variety of ways in the nuclear industry, including:

“- Operation of partition and blast shield doors

– Control of robot manipulator arms

– Multi-axis testing of core resistance to seismic events

– Impact testing to simulate critical failure of items suspended above reactor

– Monitoring fuel rod insertion forces

– Cooling and dismantling of spent fuel rods

– Processing and safe disposal of waste products”


Storing renewable energy without batteries

One of the big issues around renewable energy is storing it, to use when you need it when the sun isn’t shining on solar panels, or the wind doesn’t blow turbines. Most batteries used to store electricity are currently lithium-ion batteries which may be relatively inexpensive to buy, but have a high environmental costs in terms of mining the lithium and cobalt required to make them.

Instead, one highly successful form of energy from the past points to the future; pumped hydro. Simply put, water is pumped uphill from a lower reservoir to a higher one, and then released through a turbine to generate more electricity which in turn is partly used to pump the water back again. One company have reversed this idea, pumping water underground under high pressure, and then letting the natural pressure of the Earth push it back up again, driving a turbine.

Another idea being tested is to use solar energy to drive rock-laden trains in the desert up a track during the day, and then let then descend during the night to release energy. Essentially the trains act like a battery, storing energy that can be released later, as an article in the New Yorker explains:

“In addition to lifting weights, energy-storage companies are compressing air or water, or making objects spin, or heating them up. If you use clean energy to do the initial work and find a green way to store and release it, you’ve created an ecologically responsible battery alternative.”

A novel twist on this is the idea that skyscrapers could be used as giant batteries based on the operation of their lifts, as a 2022 paper in the journal “Energy” discusses:

“ Lift Energy Storage Technology (LEST) is a gravitational-based storage solution. Energy is stored by lifting wet sand containers or other high-density materials, transported remotely in and out of the lift with autonomous trailer devices … An existing lift can be used to transport the containers from the lower apartments to the upper apartments to store energy and from the upper apartments to the lower apartments to generate electricity.”

Once thing we are certain of; where there are loads to be lifted, or strains to be monitored, load cells will be right up there, providing live data that can help turn these embryonic renewable-storage technologies into cost-effective reality.


Load cells for your green energy project

If you’ve got a new project and are not sure which load cells to use, call us. We’ve designed systems for clients that are effective, efficient and reliable. We can supply most types of load cells from stock, or can manufacture to your specific requirements here in the UK.