The Health & Safety Executive has given consent to companies planning to inject a blend of hydrogen into Keele University’s private gas network.
The companies can now start work in earnest on a trial funded as part of Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition, which enables regulated electricity and gas companies to try novel approaches that would not normally be allowed.
Gas companies Cadent and Northern Gas Networks are leading the HyDeploy project, due to start next year. They plan to inject up to 20% hydrogen into Keele’s network to see how it copes.
The companies believe it will not have any adverse effect and had to test appliances and homes on the network and demonstrate their case to the HSE before being granted an exemption. Normally, health and safety rules only allow up to 0.1% hydrogen in the mix.
The trial, which will see higher hydrogen blends used by 17 faculty buildings and 100 homes on the network, will use hydrogen created by electrolysis, an energy intensive but clean way of producing the gas. It uses electricity to break up water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
If it proves successful, gas networks hope to use HyDeploy’s findings to support plans for a wider switch to hydrogen, though these projects would likely use steam methane forming (SMR) to produce hydrogen, which requires carbon capture and storage technologies to bury high emissions from the process.
Northern Gas Networks has made a case to switch Leeds to hydrogen, which it thinks could be done for £2bn. Cadent has also published plans to inject hydrogen into its distribution network in the North West while capturing and storing carbon in depleted gas fields in Liverpool Bay.
However, some utilities believe it is viable to use electrolysis even for large volumes of hydrogen.
Vattenfall CEO Magnus Hall said earlier this year it would be technically possible to decarbonise even intensive industries such as steel by 2030-35 and that the company had plans to own the supply chain.
The thinking is that, in a world with high penetration of renewables, excess power can be used to produce hydrogen rather than being curtailed. The hydrogen can then be stored and used when required.
“We see Vattenfall doing the electricity production, the hydrogen splitting and storing the hydrogen – which is complex,” Hall told Aurora’s spring forum.
In the UK, the government’s carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) task force is looking for ways to make CCUS viable. Meanwhile, network operators believe trials will create CCS ‘anchor’ projects – while also creating the infrastructure to enable greater penetration of hydrogen-powered vehicles.
The UK has vast potential storage resources and offshore expertise, and the Committee on Climate Change has said CCS will likely need to be part of the solution if the UK is to hit its 2050 decarbonisation targets.
But agreeing appropriate risk sharing structures between public and private purse for a technology that has not been developed at scale anywhere in the world may prove challenging.