Piedmont sets sights on hydrogen economy

The Piedmont region in northern Italy is opening up its industries to new forms of hydrogen application in preparation for the new hydrogen industry of tomorrow. HySy Lab brings together research centres, universities and small businesses to develop hydrogen-based projects. Overcoming challenges such as fuel storage on a hydrogen-powered scooter is made easier thanks to the combined expertise of the synergies formed.

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The HySy Lab aims high as it develops tomorrow's hydrogen industry The HySy Lab aims high as it develops tomorrow's hydrogen industry

“A small company like ours would not be able to participate in projects like this one without public funding but I think that by utilising public funding and some new and innovative ideas then we will be able to get to get some products which we will be able to sell on the markets tomorrow.”
Maurizio Cheli, Digisky, Skynet company

Today, the Environment Park, home to HySy Lab, is recognised throughout Europe as a centre of excellence in the field. Twenty-three companies have worked on 18 pilot projects, sharing ideas and networking between pilot projects. Achievements include: an ultra-light, hydrogen-powered aircraft; low-cost, lightweight metallic bipolar plates for hydrogen fuel cells, and a low pressure hydrogen storage aluminium tank.

Adapting existing skills

Harnessing the existing technical skills and expertise of the Piedmont region’s manufacturing industry was the designated task of the Hydrogen System Lab, or HySy Lab, set up in 2002 by the Environment Park. The lab seeks to apply the existing skills of the manufacturing industry to the hydrogen sector.

As research institutes, universities and large companies were already involved, the HySy project targeted small businesses and their potential as key players in the hydrogen market. The project identified the major components in the hydrogen chain and assessed how the Piedmont region could supply the necessary technologies and know-how based on expertise from other industrial sectors.

The small businesses had at their disposal large-scale information and technical assistance, allowing them to adapt their know-how to the requirements of the hydrogen sector as well as to develop prototype technologies as part of pilot projects.

Cooperating for success

Feasibility studies assessed whether or not the pilot projects should go ahead based on technical and financial criteria. The pilot projects required close cooperation between businesses, universities and research centres and have resulted in the creation of prototypes which have placed small businesses firmly in the hydrogen industry.

The first pilot project brought together three small businesses (Termomacchine, Compumat, Technodelta), the Università di Torino and the Environment Park. Together they developed a tank capable of storing hydrogen at low pressure.

Another project saw the creation of the first hydrogen propelled aircraft thanks to an electrical on-board generation unit based on a hydrogen fuel cell.

Yet another project saw the optimisation of a fuel cell providng an uninterruptible power supply. This was developed by a local company (Electro Power Systems) and is today a leading product in the market.These projects place Piedmont in a strategic position for the hydrogen sector of the future.

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