Unlike the EU and several European countries (e.g. Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands), the UK does not yet have a national hydrogen strategy. In its latest progress report to Parliament, the UK Committee on Climate Change recommended that the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy develop a hydrogen strategy by 1H 2021, aiming for large scale hydrogen trials to begin in the early 2020s.
The UK government’s “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” was published in November 2020 stating the intention of publishing a hydrogen strategy in 2021. This also set a target of 40 GW of offshore wind generation capacity and 5 GW of low carbon hydrogen production by 2030, appearing to indicate an intention to play a leading role in European hydrogen development.
In December 2020, the Scottish Government produced a “Hydrogen Assessment” setting out three possible scenarios for hydrogen production in Scotland including the potential for exports. This assessment is expected to lead to a Hydrogen Action plan and Hydrogen Policy Statement for Scotland.
Sustainable hydrogen will be an important contributor to the decarbonisation of the economy, but it will need support. Burning fossil fuels results in carbon pollution. However, energy-efficiency, renewables, waste and green hydrogen are ways to secure a more economically stable and natural world.
Making the market involves ensuring that sustainable hydrogen has a future in the UK and around the globe. Government and industry need to work alongside each other to create a robust market space and clear road maps for its consumption, infrastructure for its production and storage, and financial markets that offer the services and expertise needed for investment and trade.
Powersystems see the near-term decarbonisation of regional aviation, shipping, rail, infrastructure, heating, major heavy industries and building the UK’s first Hydrogen town as first steps and catalyst, setting the whole industry on a path to meeting Paris Agreement emissions targets.
Clean electrification must be at the heart of the global decarbonisation strategy
There are some sectors where direct electrification is likely to be impossible or prohibitively expensive, and hydrogen will play a key role in decarbonising these. In some sectors where direct electrification is likely to be impossible or prohibitively expensive, hydrogen must be produced in a zero-carbon fashion via electrolysis using zero-carbon electricity, green hydrogen or in a low-carbon fashion using natural gas reforming plus CCS, blue hydrogen, if deployed in a manner that achieves near-total CO2 capture and very low methane leakage. Blue hydrogen will often be cost-effective during the early stages of the transition, particularly where existing grey hydrogen, production can be adapted and retrofitted with CCS. But, in the long-term, green hydrogen will very likely be the cheaper option in most locations, with dramatic cost reductions to below $2/kg possible during the 2020s.
Green Hydrogen will be cost competitive by 2030
Following Powersystems review Climate think-tank Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) has set out the future roles and pathways for clean hydrogen. They advise that the cost of green hydrogen is expected to see “dramatic cost reductions” this decade as the cost of renewable energy and electrolysers fall — to the point where it can compete with grey hydrogen even without a carbon price. In many locations around the globe the future cost of green hydrogen could be below today’s grey hydrogen cost, making the eventual cost of decarbonising hydrogen production very small and potentially even negative.
Storage will be vital for hydrogen to help solve renewable energy’s big challenges
The world is moving into a Hydrogen economy led by developed economies and the pace looks quite fast. In the most advanced countries, they are setting mid to long term plans. At the close of the first quarter in 2021, over 30 countries have released energy road maps and more than 200 large scale projects have been announced along the value chain. In the new Green economy the approach is to use hydrogen as an energy carrier to store large amounts of surplus renewable energy for long periods of time and even to export renewable energy to different geographies. Without long term storage renewable capacity above a certain threshold would not be efficient to build.
The inherent variability of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar presents a pressing need for large scale storage of clean electricity. Storing hydrogen gas has become one of the most pertinent research and development areas surrounding hydrogen technology, and will be the key to mainstream adoption.
Major UK CCS, hydrogen project makes headway, Based at the St Fergus gas terminal in North East Scotland, the Acorn CCS and hydrogen project is expected to be storing at least 5m tons a year of CO2 by 2030, half the emissions aimed by the UK government.
Building the UK’s first Hydrogen town
Building the UK’s first hydrogen town is not just about replacing the natural gas that most of our homes rely upon today; it’s about reducing our carbon emissions in a safe and secure way. The five companies – which together own and operate around £24bn of energy infrastructure – will also help deliver a network of hydrogen refuelling facilities for zero emissions heavy good vehicles. In addition, Britain’s Hydrogen Network Plan lays out proposals to connect renewables production, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen use for industrial SuperPlaces, helping deliver two clusters by the mid-2020s and two more by 2030.
While the probability is high that some countries, such as Germany or Italy, will import hydrogen in the long term, other countries, such as United Kingdom, France or Spain, could become hydrogen exporters. The reasons for this are the higher potential for renewable energies but also a technology-neutral approach on the supply side. Contrasting European hydrogen pathways is an analysis of differing approached in key markets, the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne (EWI), together with the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES), analysed what the economic and political parameters relevant to a future hydrogen economy look like in the six European countries Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and the UK.
Hydrogen Initiative in Hamburg unveils 100 MW electrolyser plan
Hamburg Port Authority and other 11 other companies have teamed to form the Hamburg Green Hydrogen Hub, which comprises Shell, Vattenfall, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Warme Hamburg, to form a new network. This collaboration sets to deliver an ambitious green hydrogen network that includes the plan for 100 MW electrolyser. As of 2026, the network partners’ projects could reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Hamburg by 170,000 tonnes each year.
North Sea Green Hydrogen pipeline, one of the current Top 20 projects
GASCADE, Gasunie, RWE, and Shell have signed a declaration of intent regarding a pipeline for green hydrogen from offshore wind in the North Sea. As part of the AquaVentus intiative, the venture contributes to efforts to install 10 GW of electrolysis for green hydrogen derived from offshore wind between Heligoland and the Dogger sand bank. According to the partners, the project’s economic advantages are “clear”: “The pipeline will replace five High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission systems, which would otherwise have to be built. It is by far the most cost-effective option for transporting large volumes of energy over distances of more than 400 kilometres.”
French, Russian hydrogen partnership announced
This week (27, April) EDF Group and Rosatom have signed an agreement to jointly promote clean hydrogen projects in Russia and Europe. Rosatom said development of hydrogen technologies has an important role to play in the implementation of the Paris Agreement, aimed at keeping the global average temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Powersystems reviews Green Hydrogen as a renewable energy technology and some of the challenges the sector faces as we wait for the Hydrogen Strategy publication from the UK Government this year.
Hydrogen is the lightest element of the periodic table and the most common substance in the world. It can be used as feedstock, fuel or energy carrier and does not emit CO2 when burnt, that is why you often hear about its high potential for decarbonising the economy.
Now, as nations come forward with net-zero strategies to align with their international climate targets, hydrogen has once again risen up the agenda for the UK and Australia through to Germany and Japan.
Potentially hydrogen could soon power trucks, planes and ships. It could heat homes, balance electricity grids and help heavy industry to make everything from steel to cement.
But doing all these things with hydrogen would require staggering quantities of the fuel, which is only as clean as the methods used to produce it. Moreover, for every potentially transformative application of hydrogen, there are unique challenges that must be overcome.
In order to meet the 2050 decarbonisation policies and targets, the UK requires deployment of new technologies in traditional roles. One of these is the innovative technology around the uses of Green Hydrogen.
Hydrogen is an explosive and clean-burning gas. Since the weight of hydrogen is less than air, it rises in the atmosphere and is therefore rarely found in its pure form, (H2).
In a flame of pure hydrogen gas, burning in air, the hydrogen (H2) reacts with oxygen (O2) to form water (H2O) and releases energy.
The energy released enables hydrogen to act as a fuel. This energy can be used with relatively high efficiency.
Hydrogen can be made by splitting water with electricity (electrolysis) or by splitting fossil fuels or biomass with heat or steam, using “reforming” or “pyrolysis”. Any CO2 can be captured and stored.
Hydrogen can be stored, liquified and transported via pipelines, trucks or ships. And it can be used to make fertiliser, fuel vehicles, heat homes, generate electricity or drive heavy industry.
Hydrogen is usually considered an energy carrier, like electricity, as it must be produced from a primary energy source.
In a hydrogen economy, hydrogen would be used in place of fossil fuels, which currently provide four-fifths of the world’s energy supply and emit the bulk of global greenhouse gas emissions. This could aid climate goals because hydrogen only emits water when burned and can be made without releasing CO2.
What is blue hydrogen?
Blue hydrogen is when natural gas is split into hydrogen and CO2 either by Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) or Auto Thermal Reforming (ATR), but the CO2 is captured and then stored. As the greenhouse gasses are captured, this mitigates the environmental impacts on the planet. Simply put, hydrogen is considered blue when the emissions generated from the steam process are captured and stored underground via industrial carbon capture and storage (CSS).
What is brown/black hydrogen?
Brown hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels and currently accounts for around 95 per cent of global production. The oldest way of producing hydrogen is by transforming coal into gas. This gasification process converts fossil-based materials into carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen. Gasification is achieved at incredible high temperatures without combustion, with a controlled amount of oxygen and/or steam. The carbon monoxide then reacts with water to form carbon dioxide and more hydrogen via a water-gas shift reaction.
Generated via coal gasification syngas and hydrogen can be separated from the other elements using absorbers. It is the result of a highly polluting process since both CO2 and carbon monoxide cannot be reused and are released in the atmosphere.
What is Pink hydrogen?
Hydrogen obtained from electrolysis through nuclear energy is coloured pink.
Green hydrogen is produced using electricity generated from renewables such as solar energy, biomass, electricity (e.g., in the form of solar PV or via wind turbines), instead of fossil fuels. And currently accounts for 1% of overall hydrogen production.
Green hydrogen has the potential to provide clean power for manufacturing, transportation, and more — and its only by-product is water. With green hydrogen, zero carbon emissions are produced. It is in essence the gold standard of hydrogen in the clean energy sector.
Why is green hydrogen a big deal?
Green hydrogen is one of several potential low-carbon fuels that could take the place of today’s fossil hydrocarbons. Admittedly, hydrogen is far from ideal as a fuel. Its low density makes it hard to store and move around. And its flammability can be a problem.
However, the case for hydrogen is clear; the UK requires a zero-emission fuel that is well understood, has extensive regulations and standards in place, is readily scalable and which can be used across multiple energy vectors. Hydrogen is that fuel. In the next decade alone, research by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) indicates that hydrogen could reduce CO2 emissions by 1.7 million to 6.3 million tonnes by 2030, supporting the further deployment of 1,800 MW to 9 GW of wind and 830 MW to 4 GW of solar.
There are major technical and economic hurdles to meeting the UK’s Net Zero goals without hydrogen, particularly for heating and transport applications
The country’s gas grid supplies 3x more energy than the electricity grid today, and the transport sector accounted for over 1/3rd of final energy consumption in 2019. While there is significant renewable power generation potential in the UK, notably from offshore wind, electrifying all heating and transport is likely to be an unsurmountable challenge by 2050. Mass electrification would require and overhaul of the current energy system, and massive scale up of batteries, improved transmission systems and smart metering. Alternatively, hydrogen can be integrated into current energy distribution and end-use systems, and utilize high renewables potential in the UK by converting green electrons into green molecules, that can be widely transported and stored seasonally. Mechanisms to store significant volumes of energy are important for coping with extreme environmental events.
Hydrogen is already widely used by industry, so technical problems to storage and transport are not insurmountable. The opportunity for green hydrogen to be applied across a wide range of sectors means there is a large number of companies looking at harnessing and benefiting from a hydrogen fuel economy. The most significant of these are the oil and gas firms (who are increasingly facing the calls to cut back on fossil fuel production). Big oil’s interest in green hydrogen could be critical in getting the fuel through to commercial viability. Cutting the cost of green hydrogen production will require massive investment and massive scale, something the oil majors are uniquely positioned to provide.
Green hydrogen projects and pathways
Hydrogen offers a pathway to revitalise manufacturing capabilities in the UK and improve the skill base for workers. The UK was a leader in discovering hydrogen and creating fuel cells, and today has several world leading manufacturers and supply chain businesses that with the right support could become global leaders and engines of economic growth for the UK economy. Using hydrogen, the UK could also become a global Centre of Excellence for hydrogen mobility and transport across land, maritime and aviation sectors.
A recent report published by Powersystems highlights that hydrogen produced with renewable electricity could compete on costs with fossil fuel alternatives by 2030
UK regions are taking steps to capture the scale of the hydrogen opportunity. Scotland has pro-actively driven hydrogen investment and support for regional initiatives, including the BIG HIT project in the Orkneys, this multi-partner plan involves the Port of Cromarty Firth together with SHFCA members ScottishPower (ScottishPower has created a new business division dedicated to delivering green hydrogen) and Pale Blue Dot, as well as other partners including Scotch whisky producers Glenmorangie, Whyte and Mackay and Diageo. This new green hydrogen hub in the Highlands will see Scotland leading the way for the integration and deployment of hydrogen technology and decarbonisation of local industry.
Britain’s largest “green” hydrogen production facility is to be built on the outskirts of Glasgow under plans unveiled by ScottishPower. The energy group has submitted a planning application for a 20 megawatt electrolyser next to the UK’s largest onshore wind farm at Whitelee. The electrolyser will use surplus renewable electricity from the wind farm as well as power from a proposed new 40 megawatt solar farm and a 50 megawatt battery storage project to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
ScottishPower, through its recently launched Green Hydrogen Business, has signed an agreement with Global Energy Group at their Port of Nigg site to work together to identify processes and plant that could be powered by green hydrogen.
The H100 Fife project is designed to be a real life test of the use of hydrogen for heating homes. The idea is to build a facility in Levenmouth, Fife, that will use offshore wind power to generate hydrogen from electrolysers.
Across the country, local businesses in East Anglia are partnering with LEPs and local councils to assess opportunities to leverage the region’s rich offshore wind experience to accelerate the hydrogen transition.
Announced in February and March 2021, The National Grid currently has two UK Projects underway; FutureGrid, which is trialling hydrogen mixes in off-grid pipelines and Project Union, which is exploring the development of a UK hydrogen ‘backbone’ joining together industrial clusters around the country.
Powersystems recently reported on the global race to produce hydrogen offshore. Wind generation reached its highest ever level, at 17.2GW on 18 December 2020, while wind power achieved its biggest share of UK electricity production, at 60% on 26 August 2020. Yet occasionally the huge offshore wind farms pump out far more electricity than the UK needs. What if you could use wind energy to make hydrogen?
Is the UK late to the green hydrogen party?
Given that on the 8 July 2020, the road map was unveiled by the European Union to promote green hydrogen “as a key priority to achieve the European Green deal and Europe’s clean energy transition.” It is seen as a technology which can bridge the gap between electricity production from renewable energy and the goal of decarbonising a large share of the EU’s energy.
Similar policy developments are underway in the likes of Australia, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, Germany, France, Portugal and the US – the pressure is on ministers to ensure that the UK makes early preparations to become a competitive exporter in the sector.
Presently we can only look at promises made as part of the Ten Point plan for a green industrial revolution announced in November 2020. The UK Government expects that driving the growth of low carbonhydrogen could deliver over GBP 4 billion of private investment in the period up to 2030. The UK Hydrogen strategy was due in March 2021
The Nuclear Industry Council (NIC) and Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) published a roadmap outlining how the UK could co-locate electrolysis at 12-13GW of nuclear reactors. This commitment could enable the production of 75 TWh of green hydrogen by 2050, the bodies claim
The UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, has also published a roadmap this month, detailing a potential trajectory for the sector through to 2050. The roadmap has been backed by business giants including Rolls Royce and ITM Power and explores how the UK could target 80GW of green hydrogen capacity by 2050.
Powersystems recently shared on what we need to know about hydrogen on climate change and decarbonisation in the UK ahead of COP26 In November 2021
What about hydrogen vehicles?
Alongside oil and gas firms, renewable developers see green hydrogen as an emerging market, with offshore wind leader Ørsted last month trumpeting the first major project to exclusively target the transport sector in Denmark. The eye-catching Toyota Mirai helped fuel early hopes that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles might vie with electric cars to take over from the internal combustion engine. But as the EV market has boomed, the prospect of hydrogen being a serious contender has faded from view, at least in the passenger vehicle segment.There are roughly 18,000 hydrogen fuel-cell cars in the world today and 31,000 forklifts, compared to more than 373,600 plug-in electrics up to December 2020.That said, pundits still expect hydrogen to play a role in decarbonizing some vehicle segments, with forklifts and heavy-duty trucks among the most likely to benefit.
Powersystems looks at the most ambitious shake-up in the bus sector in a generation. The 5-year new funding investment aims to deliver 4,000 new British-built electric/hydrogen buses to provide clean, quiet, zero-emission travel
Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) updated its business strategy to fully electrify Jaguar models by 2025, with another ambition to begin testing hydrogen fuel cell electric prototypes in the UK this year
Toyota, Daimler and BMW are leading a group of 13 companies across the world, investing $10 billion over the next decade in developing hydrogen technology and infrastructure. Government investment also has a role to play
Bath Area Trams Association (BATA) has announced that it is in detailed discussions with American transportation system manufacturer TIG/m and consultants TenBroeke Engineering for a wire-free hydrogen tram project
Powersystems reports on Hydrogen or electric vehicles? Why the answer is probably both – The distinct virtues of the two main emerging types of greener transport mean both are likely to flourish, depending on the requirements of different types of user
In the North East – Teeside, which produces most of the UK’s current hydrogen, a hydrogen transport Centre of Excellence is being set up and funded by the government, with local leaders having even wider hydrogen economy aspirations
The Government has announced £30m of investment in EV and hydrogen technology to help launch studies into the creation of a UK lithium supply chain, improvements in battery safety and the re-use of car batteries. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) revealed the plans, which include a project to extract lithium from hard rock in Cornwall as well as studies into hydrogen storage and the development of solid-state batteries.
Leading sector for UK job creation
Green hydrogen has the potential to become a leading sector in the UK for job creation and exports.
The UK is currently a global leader in the manufacture and design of hydrogen electrolysis systems, with decades of expertise in hydrogen storage, transportation, and combustion technologies. These include the world’s first PEM electrolysis Gigafactory built by ITM Power, membrane free electrolysers developed by CPH2, and high resiliency electrolysers built for the UK & French nuclear fleets by TP Group.
Other emerging technologies Include Solid Oxide Electrolysers currently under development by CERES Power and HiiROC’s plasma process technology.
74,000 jobs could be created from a commitment to hydrogen by the government and supported by appropriate measures
Supporting these highly specialised businesses and other innovative technology companies require highly skilled workers creating thousands of well-paid manufacturing jobs across the UK will provide a competitive advantage towards an emerging global market demand.
Longer-term private sector vision
These new projects may seem small in comparison to the UK’s broader transport, industrial and heat sectors. But it is clear that there is strong private sector support for longer-term, overarching initiatives that deliver an ongoing transition beyond initial pilots.
The Green Hydrogen Catapult, for example, has convened seven big businesses under a shared mission to increase the world’s green hydrogen production fifty-fold by 2026 – in a move they claim will halve costs
Business members of the Catapult include Iberdrola, Ørsted, ACWA Power, CWP Renewables, Envision, Yara, and Snam
Away from the private sector, non-profit the Rocky Mountain Institute will provide support alongside the UN’s pre-COP26 ‘Race to Zero’
£320 billion could be generated by the Hydrogen industry for the UK economy
Similarly, trade bodies including WindEurope and SolarPowerEurope received backing from Bill-Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy last year to form the Renewable Hydrogen Coalition
And, while the Catapult is global and the Coalition covers all of Europe, the UK does play host to its own Hydrogen Taskforce, which includes the likes of Shell and BP
The Hydrogen Taskforce is a coalition of the hydrogen industry’s largest organisations that operate in and innovate across this sector. Its aim is to secure the role of hydrogen in the future energy mix.
The Hydrogen Taskforce is committed to working with Government to secure tangible support to aid the creation of infrastructure and delivery frameworks, helping the government to deliver on its promises to level up the regions and its Net Zero by 2050 commitments.
The Hydrogen Taskforce aims to enable the UK to become a world leader in the international application and service of hydrogen, to deliver excellence throughout the supply chain and create a globally attractive export.
All in all, it would seem that all of the ingredients are ready for the UK to begin dramatically decarbonising and scaling up its hydrogen sector. Over the coming weeks, all eyes will be on BEIS, pushing it to bring the Hydrogen Strategy to the table and understand the actions we now need to take as part of the Rollout plan for a UK hydrogen economy.
What we need to know about hydrogen on climate change and decarbonisation in the UK
Dr Gareth Hinds, Science Area Leader in Electrochemistry at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), tells us what we need to know about hydrogen in the UK, including broader comment on climate change and decarbonisation
Over the last few years, the world has woken up to the need to reduce emissions and invest in climate resilience. The UK is continuing to lead by example with its net-zero targets written into law and developing scalable ways of decarbonising the UK to address climate change, air quality and energy security is high on the UK Government’s agenda.
To meet the aspirations of achieving net-zero by 2050, and for energy to become more affordable, clean and secure, a shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources is required. Great progress has already been made in transitioning the electricity grid, but there are huge challenges in other sectors, such as transport and heating, which make up the bulk of UK emissions. Hydrogen is one option to solve these challenges, but it can’t do it alone.
Hydrogen in the UK
Back in September 2020, after a debate in the House of Lords, it was confirmed that a national Hydrogen Strategy will be published ahead of COP26 in November 2021. This will be linked to the publication of an upcoming Energy White Paper outlining the broader UK strategy, expected in early 2021. Despite all the progress made within the hydrogen sector in the UK, a systems-level approach is still required that considers inter-dependencies and trade-offs with the entire UK energy sector. It is important that the strategy is flexible enough that it can develop and respond to new disruptive events or technologies in this rapidly developing sector, such as the rapidly plunging cost of renewables and electrolysis.
The UK has made a significantly lower investment into funding research and development and large-scale deployment of hydrogen technologies when compared to some other countries and is lagging behind Japan, Korea, China and Germany. The UK has been successful at delivering small scale demonstration projects, but this needs continued support to progress and scale-up, building on traditional strengths in engineering and energy supply. This strategy will play a key role in cementing the UK as a global leader in this area.
Climate change and decarbonisation
Tackling climate change and solving the decarbonisation challenge is a global problem, therefore, it is vital that there is international collaboration. The EU, the U.S. and Japan are extremely efficient at bringing together consortia of expertise from academia, industry and research institutes to develop new technologies with long-term applied research funding streams, for example through the EU Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking and the ENE-FARM project in Japan. A similar approach could easily be replicated in the UK and would help to boost our progress.
It will be very difficult to achieve net-zero without hydrogen. It is a complementary and highly flexible energy vector that is particularly well suited to areas where other technologies will not be feasible, such as heating, industrial power and heavy-duty transport. However, although hydrogen will play a key role in achieving net-zero, it is important to recognise that many other complementary technologies will also be required.
For example, Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) are highly complementary technologies and will be deployed in different scenarios that play to their respective strengths. Batteries are more efficient at storing and releasing energy than hydrogen so are ideally suited to light-duty passenger vehicles regularly travelling short distances where they can be recharged between journeys. For heavier vehicles or those undertaking longer journeys, the prohibitive weight and recharging time of batteries make hydrogen a more suitable option.
Hydrogen is also easy to store in large quantities for long periods of time, for example, in the salt caverns that were used to store town gas (which comprised 50% hydrogen) before the advent of natural gas in the 1960s. This makes it ideal for smoothing out seasonal variations in energy demand on a UK-wide scale.
A future net-zero energy landscape
The ability to couple electricity, heating and transport in a flexible and adaptable manner makes hydrogen a key component of a future net-zero energy landscape. Significant investment is required to maintain global competitiveness, but it would appear that joined-up UK government policy in this area is finally on the horizon.