UK Firm Launches Radical 2034 Hydrogen Blueprint
A report outlining detailed plans to switch much of northern England over to hydrogen from gas by 2034 was released by the region’s gas distributor Northern Gas Networks (NGN) November 23.
It outlines how over 3.7 million homes and 40,000 businesses and industries in the north of England that are heated by natural gas could be converted to hydrogen by 2034.
NGN, in partnership with another UK gas distributor Cadent and Norwegian producer Equinor, released the 'H21 North of England' report that sets out how hydrogen could be used to deliver virtually emission-free energy to millions of homes across the North of England.
The report also proposes a six-phase UK rollout which could see a further 12mn homes across the rest of the country converted to hydrogen by 2050, which it describes as the world’s largest project to reduce carbon emissions, and one that could stimulate "thousands of high-quality jobs".
The proposals see homes across the north of England start to be converted in 2028, with expansion across 3.7mn homes in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, York, Huddersfield, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Teesside and Newcastle over the following seven years at an estimated cost of £22.7bn ($29bn).
"The hydrogen would be produced from natural gas at a self-powered 12.15 GW production facility with carbon capture technology, generating enough hydrogen to fuel homes and industries in the north of England," said NGN, adding: "The production facility would see salt caverns used to safely store hydrogen until required, ensuring there is more than enough to meet demand during the coldest times of year. The by-product of the process, carbon dioxide, would be stored safely in saline aquifers such as those in the southern North Sea off the northeast coast of England. The hydrogen produced will be transported to the local city grids in a new high-pressure transmission system designed with extra capacity to enable future supply for industry, power and transport."
NGN said that the mayors of Liverpool, Manchester and Tees Valley plus the leader of Leeds City Council, as well as cross-party group of parliamentarians, have supported such hydrogen innovation.
The first stage would be a front-end engineering (Feed) study starting in 2019 but leading to a technical solution and a final investment decision by 2023. The report calls on government and industry to share the cost of this study, as a sign of future commitment on both sides.
NGN’s programme director for H21, Dan Sadler said: "If rolled out UK-wide, this detailed engineering solution has the potential to decarbonise 70% of domestic heat by 2050."
UK statutory advisory body Committee on Climate Change welcomed the report and recognised "the potential H21 has to make a large impact in UK and global climate change obligations".
Equinor's head of new energy solutions, Pal Eitrheim, said: "As a major gas supplier to the UK for many decades and a global leader in CCS [carbon capture and storage], the H21 NoE report recommendations fit well with our strategy of being a broad energy company dedicated to developing sustainable solutions for the low carbon future."
However other voices from the gas sector are sceptical about whether or not CCS can safely and commercially be rolled out at scale. Engie’s head of gas Didier Holleaux told NGW late June 2018: "As a mining engineer, I am not comfortable with injecting something as acidic as CO2 underground … we [at Engie] do not believe that CCS is a mass-scale solution."
Others will question why H21 is advocating the mass production of hydrogen through ‘steam reforming’ of natural gas – which produces CO2 as a by-product, and therefore requires CCS in order to be carbon-neutral – when a more direct, but perhaps costlier, approach is to electrolyse water using fossil-free electricity, which creates hydrogen and a harmless by-product: oxygen.