On the Eleventh Day of Christmas – keeping hydrogen fuel flowing

By its very nature, hydrogen fuel needs more than just hot air to become a reliable source of clean energy – we need the necessary transport links and infrastructure to sustain it.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven pipers piping…

It’s no secret that the UK is going above and beyond to try and prove its green credentials. With a legally-enshrined plan to deliver net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the UK is intending to lead a new green revolution.

But part of that revolution will mean replacing the natural gas pumping into our homes with clean hydrogen fuel and building adequate infrastructure to sustain it. So, how can we keep the flow of power going uninterrupted?

A piping-hot issue

Natural gas is one of the UK’s primary sources of electricity at present, providing us with as much as 36 per cent of our power. It’s a hydrocarbon, and burning it produces greenhouse gases which accelerate climate change. By contrast, hydrogen is invisible, odourless, non-toxic and abundant.

It’s in the air we breathe, the water in our seas and beyond. It’s one of the most commonly found elements in the universe, and so clearly hydrogen fuel has further to go for us, than finite hydrocarbons. Switching from gas to hydrogen is actually one of the important switches we’ll need to make, if we hope to achieve carbon neutrality, according to the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (UK HFCA).

While natural gas relies on extraction through rigs and extensive pipeline infrastructure to transport it across land, the hydrogen fuel of the future will need a new and innovative energy ecosystem to thrive. Hydrogen fuel could be produced through pioneering methods including nuclear heat, water electrolysis and even carbon capture.

Once produced, hydrogen can be stored in liquid, gas or solid form. For now, we transport it on trucks carrying pressurised cylinders, while pipelines are used to a very limited extent.

Hydrogen hubs of the future

As mentioned, hydrogen fuel will need its own energy ecosystem, if it is to prove a viable source of power. That means investing in the creation of ‘hydrogen hubs’, where fuel can be produced and ferried across the UK.

This year, the government unveiled plans to make the first such hub in Teeside, where it is hoped to provide adequate supplies of clean power to buses, lorries, trains, ships and aviation transport.

Meanwhile, over at Keele University, ground-breaking work is allowing zero-carbon hydrogen to be pumped into a local gas network, piping a special blend of cleaner fuel into homes and other nearby buildings for heating and other purposes. The HyDeploy pilot scheme injected a mix of up to 20 per cent hydrogen into existing gas grids, as an experiment to see the feasibility of powering 100 homes and 30 faculty buildings.

Having hydrogen gradually introduced into larger gas grids suggests that the transition towards hydrogen could be easily achieved, simply by making effective use of existing gas infrastructure. Keele University estimates that, if the rest of the UK adopted a 20 per cent hydrogen blend such as that in the HyDeploy pilot, the UK could save six million tonnes worth of CO2 emissions per year.

That would be equivalent to taking a staggering two and a half million cars off the road.

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