28/11/2019

In recent months, we have seen a significant and welcome escalation in the commitment to create a carbon free future. The Government announced a 2050 net zero carbon target for the UK, while increasing numbers of councils, including Leeds and Sheffield, have declared a ‘climate emergency’.

The need to decarbonise our economy has become pressing. There is a recognition that efforts must be stepped up and accelerated if we are to avoid progressively more serious climate change challenges.

One area where our carbon emissions could be greatly reduced is in the use of gas for domestic and industrial heating – such usage currently represents around a third of our national carbon footprint. But a much cleaner alternative exists – blending hydrogen with natural gas, which results in significantly lower carbon emissions.

It has been estimated that if the entire UK used hydrogen gas for its heating and cooking, we could save around six million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year – the equivalent of taking 2.5 million cars off the road.

It is therefore exciting to see the North at the forefront of efforts to test and develop a hydrogen heating system.

HyDeploy, a project led by Cadent in partnership with the North of England’s gas distribution network Northern Gas Networks, has received funding to start blending 20% hydrogen into the domestic gas network without needing to change customer appliances.

A year-long demonstration will begin at Keele University later this year, and two larger public network demonstrations will take place on Northern Gas Networks network in the North East from 2020, where blending hydrogen and natural gas will be used to heat around 700 homes followed by Cadent’s North West network in 2021.

Meanwhile H21, a programme led by the North of England’s gas distributer, Northern Gas Networks, in partnership with Cadent, SGN and Wales & West Utilities, is building the evidence base to prove that converting parts of the gas network to carry 100% hydrogen is as safe as the natural gas transported today.

A strategic report, H21 North of England, led by Northern Gas Networks in partnership with Cadent and global energy company Equinor, presents a conceptual design for converting 3.7 million homes across the North to hydrogen gas by 2034, with the conversion process starting in 2028. The report presents a blueprint of the various stages needed to convert gas infrastructure at a very large scale.

Yorkshire already has strong credentials in hydrogen technology, with Sheffield-based ITM Power specialising in the manufacture of integrated hydrogen energy systems including the conversion of surplus renewable energy into hydrogen gas for storage in the grid, the use of hydrogen as a clean fuel source for vehicles, and the use of hydrogen in the chemical industry to reduce dependence on fossil fuels in the production of such commodities as ammonia and synthetic methane.

The production of the hydrogen gas in the H21 trials will be produced by an ITM Power electrolyser (the use of an electrical current to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen).

In a separate development, Drax Group, owners of Selby power station, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Equinor and National Grid Ventures to explore the creation of a large-scale carbon capture usage and storage network in the Humber along with a hydrogen production facility.

The facility could be constructed in the Humber in the mid-2020s and would mark a significant step on the zero carbon journey.

In short, Yorkshire and the North East is right at the forefront of developing hydrogen usage. This region has a proud track record in embracing innovation and change, and this is no exception.

Of course, there are many technical and operational aspects to developing a hydrogen network at scale that will need to be piloted, tested and proven.

But with the political will existing to facilitate a shift to a cleaner economy, and no alterations needed to customers’ gas appliances or the pipes to their homes, there is the potential for hydrogen to play a significant role in the UK’s transition to a decarbonised economy, spawning a new ecosystem of producers and suppliers in the region and nationwide.