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    HyNet’s Progressive Energy sets out UK hydrogen plan


Hydrogen as a natural gas substitute is gathering momentum in the UK. [image credit: HyNet]

by: William Powell

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HyNet’s Progressive Energy sets out UK hydrogen plan

Progressive Energy, the project leader for a UK hydrogen-development project HyNet, sees the UK government’s hydrogen strategy as a good first step, it told NGW in a late September interview.

The government is developing a business model to support hydrogen production that it hopes will unlock billions of private investment. The support regime used to support offshore wind, contracts for difference (CfD) is being adapted for hydrogen production. The support regime underpins the cost difference between the sales price of hydrogen and the cost to produce it. Using a tried and tested approach is sensible, Progressive says.

Millions of pounds have already been granted for engineering, studies and tests. This shows the scale of the commitment. However, having passed the front-end engineering design (FEED) stage for its hydrogen production facility, HyNet now wants to move on to final investment decision but is held back by the speed of business model delivery. “We need to go from ‘minded to’ positions to ‘inkable contracts’,” Progressive says.

HyNet is a demand led project and has signed up over 30 industrial and commercial customers either for large amounts of hydrogen or for CO2 removal and sequestration. 

The hydrogen will be produced primarily by autothermal reforming (ATR) of gas with the CO2 being separated and permanently stored. The project has just completed the £7.5mn FEED on the first hydrogen line. The aim is to have 350 MW of hydrogen production in HyNet by 2025 and 4 GW by 2030. That will replace almost half the methane now used in the northwest.

Hydrogen will be supplied to customers through a new hydrogen network being delivered by network operator Cadent. This infrastructure unlocks other sources of hydrogen such as electrolysis, which can connect into the network. 

Hydrogen shares with gas with a major advantage over electrons: it can be stored. Hydrogen storage in salt caverns, for which there is a lot of potential in the northwest, allows the bridging of supply shortages. The feasibility has been tested several times in mainland Europe. There could be over 1 TWh stored in caverns in Cheshire, already home to natural gas storage facilities owned by Innovyn, Progessive says. 

HyNet will take CO2 from an industrial cluster in the northwest, including the hydrogen facilities, and inject it into depleted Liverpool Bay gas fields. This will save the offshore operator, Eni, the cost of decommissioning the platforms and provide it with a new revenue stream. The Italian company already has a licence for CO2 storage from the Oil & Gas Authority, 

There is also an existing gas pipeline both offshore, and for a major part of the onshore requirement. This can be repurposed to carry CO2. Together these factors mean that HyNet is able to offer low-cost CO2 transport and storage. Cadent is not now considering transporting CO2, it has told NGW.


HyNet worth companies

Companies face rapidly rising costs over the next decade as the price of carbon increases. Their customers are also increasingly demanding ‘low carbon’ products. Progressive says HyNet gives these companies the opportunity to move quickly to protect their businesses and seize the new opportunities created by the transition to a low carbon economy.

In the HyNet region more than 30 companies – including household names like Unilever, Jaguar Landrover, Pilkington, Kelloggs, Heinz, Pepsico and Heineken – want to switch to hydrogen or directly capture carbon for storage. HyNet will protect the 340,000+ local manufacturing jobs and help these businesses thrive. To support this, fuel switching trials are underway.

Recently a world first large-scale hydrogen trial was undertaken at the Pilkington float glass facility in St Helens. This demonstrated that this process can be safely and effectively switched from natural gas to hydrogen. Similar trials are about to take place at Unilever at Port Sunlight. These demonstrate the practicality of switching to hydrogen and the appetite of users to embrace the technology 


Blending into the gas grid - HyDeploy

For HyNet, hydrogen-methane blending will be carried out at the four nodes where the local distribution network and the national transmission system meet. At a national level, blending at 20% by volume will save 6mn metric tons/yr. It is also an important stepping-stone towards conversion of the gas grid. The successful testing of a 20-80 blend by volume of hydrogen with natural gas in the Keele University private gas network has given the backers of HyDeploy – a consortium led by Progressive Energy with low-pressure pipeline operator Cadent among the founding members – the confidence to expand the trial to a larger group of household consumers.

An exemption to the Gas Safety (Management) Regulations have had to be secured for the network trials and the Health & Safety Executive assessed the application in both cases. For the purposes of the trials, the hydrogen was provided free. 

The first test was conducted in a private network owned by Keele University. Expanding the trial to a larger network will, it is hoped, demonstrate the attractiveness of hydrogen for heating and cooking, and also pave the way to a pure hydrogen network. 

This is an important but overlooked factor: the alternative to hydrogen is electrification using heat-pumps, which would cost a lot more to install and be more disruptive. Replacing domestic boilers with something very similar will be less likely to meet resistance than installing heat-pumps, if there is a proven history of safe operation, hence the expanded demonstration.


The importance of all types of low carbon hydrogen

Progressive says all forms of low carbon hydrogen are needed. The government’s low carbon hydrogen standard is important to set the bar on the carbon savings being delivered. Progressive says that blue hydrogen production needs high levels of carbon capture and efficiency to play its part in the national energy transition. 

Johnson Matthey’s ATR is considered superior to steam methane reformation (SMR) for carbon capture as it is purpose built for CO2 from methane, and thermally more efficient than SMR. It can deliver 97% capture rate. Blue hydrogen will have to do the heavy lifting as it can be brought on stream quickly, at scale and more cheaply than the alternatives, but green hydrogen will come and so eventually will carbon-negative hydrogen, produced from biomass, Progressive says. 

The UK has deployed world leading levels of offshore wind as well as other renewables. However, most turbine and solar panel equipment is made from foreign components. This time things are different: the UK has the opportunity to develop the hydrogen skills and technology in the UK – if we are quick enough, Progressive says. For example, the hydrogen production technology being used for HyNet uses UK technology from Johnson Matthey. HyNet will act as the blueprint for other projects across the UK, but it also hopes to establish UK leadership and export across the globe.