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    UK industry asks government for national hydrogen strategy [GasTransitions]


A number of key industrial players in the UK hydrogen sector, who have formed the UK Hydrogen Taskforce, believe the UK has the potential to become a major producer of hydrogen and exporter of hydrogen technology. They have asked the UK government to come up with a national hydrogen strategy, to increase their chances “in the global race to become a leading nation in hydrogen technologies”. [GasTransitions Volume 1, Issue 4]

by: Karel Beckman

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Insights, Premium, Gas Transitions, Energy Transition, Hydrogen, United Kingdom

UK industry asks government for national hydrogen strategy [GasTransitions]

On 3 March 2020, the Hydrogen Taskforce, an industry group formed in the summer of 2019 by Shell, BP, Arup, BOC (Linde Gas), consultancy DBD International and ITM Power and which has since grown to include members such as Storengy (Engie), boiler manufacturer Baxi, gas distributor Cadent, Northern Gas Networks,  BNP Paribas and Arval, presented their first report to a group of key members of the British Parliament and Energy Minister Rt Hon. Kwasi Kwarteng MP.

In it, they ask the government to commit to a national, “cross-departmental”, hydrogen strategy and to provide £1 billion in financial support over a four-year period to support projects in hydrogen production, storage and distribution. According to the Taskforce’s spokesperson from London-based communications agency Madano, which helped found the Taskforce together with policy consultancy Ecuity, the report was very positively received by MPs and Energy Minister Kwarteng.

The spokesperson explained that the industry players decided to create the Taskforce because they feel currently a national strategy is sorely missing in the UK. “We looked at a lot of projects and innovators in the sector and we found was there is a lot happening in hydrogen, but there is a gap when it comes to the creation of a national policy.”

The spokesperson noted that “many different government agencies are involved in various aspects of the hydrogen sector – for example, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for International Trade, the Department for Transport, the Ministry for Housing, the Environment Ministry (DEFRA) and the Treasury – but there is not a cross-sector vision, ranging from energy production to heat and all the way to transport.”

The Taskforce believe that with government commitment, the UK has the potential to become a world leader in hydrogen technologies and production. Unlike for example Germany, which is envisioning huge imports of green hydrogen in the future, from regions like North Africa, Australia and the Middle East, the UK players will focus on indigenous production.  In addition, like the Germans they believe they can become exporters of solutions and technology.

The spokesperson continued: “We asked the government for £1 billion in support to create hydrogen solutions to scale, so that they’re in a position to meet the UK domestic energy needs for a net zero future. We don’t want to spend that on imports. The main thrust of our effort is indigenous production. We may have to import some hydrogen at some point, but that is not what we are hoping for. We want to make UK a hydrogen economy and to export our technology and our hydrogen to other countries as well.” 

Home heating

The Taskforce envisages a future which includes both green hydrogen, produced from natural wind resources (“the largest in the world”) and blue hydrogen, “applying our existing supply of natural gas and CCS. In addition, there is the possibility of producing hydrogen using nuclear energy.”

The UK hydrogen effort differs in yet another aspect from those in most other countries, in that it puts high priority on realising  hydrogen solutions in the home heating market, alongside other technologies (heat pumps) In countries like The Netherlands and Germany, hydrogen for home heating is seen as a more long-term option compared to hydrogen use in industry and transport.

The UK “is considered to be a global leader in the development of hydrogen for heating,” notes the report. The Taskforce calls on the government to “collaborate on public trials in occupied buildings of 100% hydrogen heating” and to mandate that all new boiler installations must be hydrogen-ready from 2025 on. For example, the HyDeploy project is one such venture, aimed at enabling hydrogen blending in the gas network of up to 20% before the end of 2022, and to develop 100% hydrogen solutions already for the period 2022-2027.

 “The government has committed to net zero-carbon emissions by 2050,” said the spokesperson. “This will require decarbonising the heating sector. We believe that hydrogen is needed, alongside electrification, for the decarbonisation of heat. The scale of the heat domain coupled with its seasonal demand profile make it a good fit for chemical energy carriers such as hydrogen.”

One important element in the Taskforce’s strategy is to align its projects with the UK government’s policy of “levelling up the regions”, which is currently the main thrust of UK policy in addition to Brexit, said the spokesperson. “We are going to be providing hydrogen projects in areas of the UK that need to be levelled up. The North-West and North-East of England are great places to produce hydrogen or to store it.”

"The world’s first zero-carbon gas grid" and other hydrogen projects in the UK

The Hydrogen Taskforce report lists a number of hydrogen programmes that are being carried out in the UK at the moment:

  • The UK hydrogen mobility programme, a collaboration between government and industry, has been in operation since 2012 and has resulted in the deployment of 15 stations and over 200 vehicles. The Taskforce is calling on the government to provide support to establish 100 hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK by 2025. In this area, the UK is trailing Germany, which already has around 100 stations.
  • HY4HEAT, HYDEPLOY, H21 AND H100 are all government-supported programmes focusing on the use of hydrogen to decarbonise domestic and commercial heat by decarbonising the gas grid. These projects have included feasibility studies which have demonstrated the technical and economic viability of this pathway as well as the development of appliances that use 100% hydrogen, notes the report.
  • The Hydrogen Supply Programme committed £33 million to exploring the feasibility of producing low cost clean hydrogen at scale. The technologies developed through this programme include both blue and green hydrogen as well as storage and distribution solutions.

In addition, it lists a number of interesting case studies that are being carried out:

  • HyNet has received a £13m boost funding the Hydrogen Supply and Industrial Fuel Switching competitions. The project is delivering a clean hydrogen production facility for deployment within the hydrogen cluster in the north west. The technologies being developed under the programme would enable CCUS whilst reducing the cost of clean hydrogen. Additionally, the project will demonstrate the feasibility of switching several key industrial processes from natural gas to clean hydrogen as part of the wider HyNet project. Practical demonstration and experimental development of direct-firing, boiler, and refinery technologies will be delivered at NSG Pilkington’s Greengate Works (glass manufacturer), Unilever’s Port Sunlight plant (personal care, home care, and beauty products), and Essar Oil’s Stanlow Refinery.
  • The Gigastack project will demonstrate the delivery of bulk, low-cost and zero-carbon hydrogen at a refinery in Humberside through ITM Power’s gigawatt scale polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysers, manufactured in the UK. The project aims to dramatically reduce the cost of green hydrogen, as a key enabler for scaling up the deployment of renewable generation assets. The Phase 1 feasibility study showed that the Gigastack project could reduce the cost of green hydrogen by more than 50% compared to today’s costs.
  • Funded through the Government’s Hy4Heat programme, heating appliance manufacturers are developing domestic hydrogen appliances to demonstrate the safe use of hydrogen as a fuel in providing domestic heating, hot water and cooking requirements. Heating manufacturer Baxi Heating UK is among the companies developing an 100% hydrogen fuelled appliances for demonstration testing during 2020. They have developed a ‘’hydrogen ready boiler’’ which can be initially installed to operate on natural gas then converted to hydrogen with a simple intervention at a future date. The appliance will use the same outer case dimensions and pipe connection points as a current natural gas boiler in order to facilitate as far as possible a “like for like” changeover. This means that installation of ‘hydrogen ready’ boilers could begin long before 100% hydrogen is available within a locality by utilising the existing natural gas network. Once hydrogen is available, the hydrogen ready boilers can be simply and easily converted to hydrogen without the need for a new heating system.
  • Centurion, funded by Innovate UK and project partners Storengy, Ineos and Cadent and Hysecure, funded by the Hydrogen Supply programme, have paved the way to safely store hydrogen in salt caverns. The studies have shown that repurposing existing salt caverns is a relatively quick and cost-effective method of providing bulk storage of hydrogen and have also demonstrated the technical feasibility of building new purpose-built caverns. Conversion could take place in as little as 1.5 years whilst a new cavern could be built in 3.5 years. Capital costs of hydrogen storage in caverns are expected to fall by 50% to £600/MWh. This is very competitive with the cost of battery storage, currently £160,000/MWh. The large storage volumes provided by salt caverns are also key to providing the intra-seasonal storage required to meet winter energy demand.
  • HyDeploy is a pioneering energy demonstration project to establish the potential for blending hydrogen, up to 20%, into the normal gas supply by using an ITM Power electrolyser. A 10-month live demonstration of blended gas is taking place on part of the Keele gas network and will finish in August 2020. HyDeploy will help to determine the level of hydrogen which can be used by customers safely and with no changes to their existing domestic appliances. HyDeploy will unlock hydrogen injection into the grid, which, coupled with policy support, will create an early market for hydrogen.
  • The Aberdeen Bus Project, launched in 2015, delivered 10 hydrogen buses. The buses, operated by First Aberdeen and Stagecoach, have driven more miles in commercial operation than any other hydrogen fuel cell bus project to date. The refuelling station, operated by BOC, supported both the buses and a fleet of cars, demonstrating the benefits of multi modal infrastructure. Phase 2 of this project will commence in 2020 with the introduction of 15 next generation double decker buses.

Another major hydrogen initiative in the UK, announced in mid-April, after the report came out, is a plan by the UK’s gas network operators which aims to deliver the world’s first zero-carbon gas grid. This is part of a larger programme, called Gas Goes Green, undertaken by the Energy Networks Association, which includes all major UK gas operators, such as Cadent, Northern Gas Networks and National Grid.

As reported by James Murray on the website Business Green on 16 April, the programme will be spearheaded by former Cadent CEO Chris Train, who is being billed as the UK’s first “Green Gas Champion”. The Gas Goes Green initiative will not only look at converting the gas grid to hydrogen, but also how to accelerate the use of biomethane in the grid.

A study by consultancy Guidehouse (formerly Navigant), Pathways to Net-Zero: Decarbonising the Gas Networks in Great Britain, published in October 2019, concluded that a scenario in which renewable gas was used in combination with low-carbon electricity would save up to £13 billion compared to a 100% electrification scenario.