A consortium led by gas networks aims to work out whether using more hydrogen within existing infrastructure could cut UK carbon emissions.
Cadent and Northern Gas Networks believe it could also lay the ground for renewed efforts to crack carbon capture and storage.
The HyDeploy project, funded by bill payers under Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition, officially launched yesterday.
It aims to inject a gas blend of up to 20% hydrogen across Keele University’s private gas network next year in a bid to work out how much hydrogen could be safely used within existing infrastructure without affecting gas appliances.
Keele’s campus was chosen because, with 12,000 students and staff and 350 mixed-use buildings, it arguably has a profile not too dissimilar to a small town.
Results from Keele could therefore provide a platform for a wider public trial.
Using hydrogen, or other ‘green’ gases within existing gas networks is one of the pathways industry and government are considering in a bid to decarbonise heat.
Another pathway is electrificiation, which proponents argue may be a cleaner approach.
Electrification arguments hinge on the fact that creating clean hydrogen at scale would require carbon capture and storage, a technology not yet proven at commercial scale.
Counter arguments revolve around the massive peak loads electrification of heat would create, and how these could be managed in a system with high penetration of intermittent renewables, and where consumers display little appetite to change consumption patterns.
Under the HyDeploy trial, hydrogen will be created via electrolysis, which breaks up water molecules into electricity and oxygen.
For large-scale operations, it is likely that steam methane reformation (SMR) methods of production would be required. Making SMR hydrogen ‘clean’ would require carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Mark Horsley, CEO of Northern Gas Networks, told The Energyst the firm “makes no bones” about the fact large scale deployment of hydrogen within gas networks would require CCS.
However, he said if hydrogen can safely be proven for use at significant concentrations within gas networks, such a requirement would help create “anchor projects for people wanting to build carbon capture networks” and make them “more viable”.
David Parkin, director, network strategy at Cadent, admitted that CCS support has a “chequered history” in the UK, with funding competitions unexpectedly axed two years ago.
However, Parkin said he is “very confident that the government is now focused on delivering CCS … [Beis] and the Committee on Climate Change have said that the UK will not achieve 2050 carbon targets without it”.
While previous CCS initiatives focused on decarbonising power, Parkin said the current cycle is “moving towards the decarbonisation of heat, transport and industry – and the HyDeploy project aligns with that broader strategy”.
Using higher blends of hydrogen in the gas network will require plastic pipes. The UK-wide iron ring main replacement programme is now about 70% complete, according to Horsley, and will be 100% complete by 2032, potentially creating strong alignment for higher hydrogen use in the next decade.
While gas appliances manufactured after 1996 are designed to operate with a hydrogen mix up to 23%, the government is funding a £25m project to determine implications of higher hydrogen blends for gas-fired equipment such as cookers and boilers. Manufacturers such as Worcester Bosch have already started designing boilers to handle higher hydrogen mixes.
Horsley suggested the Beis appliance funding and Ofgem innovation allowances indicate that “government, regulator and industry are ensuring the requisite [hydrogen] elements are joined up”.
However, he rebutted claims by academics, most recently the UK Energy Research Centre, which suggest gas networks may be “promoting options which clearly cannot deliver a transformation to low carbon heat … as a means to progress their own financial agenda”.
“That is not fair comment,” said Horsley. “There is not a silver bullet in any solution and we do not preclude that as an industry. We very much support the work of the electricity sector, but different circumstances require different solutions. So I can categorically state that [progressing a financial agenda] is not the case.
“We are very confident about the technology – hydrogen production is a known technology – but there is potential to use the pipe network for other bio- or synthetic gases. So we think the project has a real merit, but, at the same time, we are not precluding other solutions.”
See details of the trial here.
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