Hydrogen Production - Hurdles and Opportunities

Hydrogen production could help balance intermittent energy generation, says Policy Exchange

Scotland and North East England offer the best opportunities for successful hydrogen production hubs, while investment in cost-effective hydrogen production technologies – such as electrolysis – would open up export opportunities, according to a new report from Policy Exchange.

Fuelling the Future, by Policy Exchange’s senior energy and environment research fellow Joshua Burke, recommended that:

  • Without coordinated leadership on a hydrogen economy from industry and central government (targeted at lowering the cost of sustainable production), the UK will not benefit from the big opportunities to decarbonise.

  • As part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, investment should be focused on R&D to lower the cost of hydrogen production via methods like electrolysis, which has the potential to provide flexible services to help balance intermittent renewable energy.

  • New analysis by Policy Exchange suggests that if natural gas used in industry was completely replaced by hydrogen, industrial emissions could drop by 71%. However, more research and investment in infrastructure is needed to reduce the cost of hydrogen production and make this cost-effective for businesses.

  • In the short term, long distance freight offers the best opportunities for implementing hydrogen use at scale, and national and local government should work with the private sector to invest in the necessary refuelling network as well as innovation grants for pilot programmes.

  • Hydrogen production using electrolysers and ‘spare’ curtailed wind can replace less than 1% of the gas used in domestic heating, while production using fossil fuels is incompatible with domestic decarbonisation targets without carbon capture and storage (CCS). Scotland and the North East of England are the best places in the country for decarbonised hydrogen production hubs using renewable energy and/or CCS so the Government should consider targeting investment there.

A spokesperson for Uniper, which sponsored the report, said: “We’ve been looking at how renewable electricity can be converted to hydrogen and injected into the gas network, to address the challenging question of how to decarbonise heat. Today’s report throws a spotlight on some of the exciting opportunities presented by the emerging hydrogen economy – but like us, it is also clear about the investment and leadership that are crucial if the potential is to be realised.”

More on the hydrogen economy

Cadent plan would see a fifth of gas in northwest replaced with hydrogen

UK should take leadership in using hydrogen, argues IMechE

From New Power Report: energy issues in a switch to hydrogen gas

Hydrogen grid? Think about power – and gas – needs, says energy systems expert

Report suggests converting gas grid to hydrogen network

The gas, electricity, transport balancing act

Does the gas grid have a low-carbon future?


HYDeploy - H2 into Keele University Gas Grid Trial

Hydrogen for heat ‘will create anchor carbon capture and storage projects’

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”.

Parkin: CCS getting back on track

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”.

Horsley: Different circumstances require different solutions

“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.”


Hydrogen and CO2 Plans for Liverpool Bay

Cadent outlines major hydrogen plus carbon capture and storage plan

Cadent has 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.

The UK’s largest gas distribution network operator, formerly owned by National Grid, says the £0.9bn HyNet project, if given support by the government and allowed by the regulator, could be operational by the mid 2020s.

The plan is to produce hydrogen from natural gas via a process called auto-thermal reforming (ATR). This separates hydrogen from methane, with carbon dioxide the bi-product.

The carbon dioxide requires capture and storage (CCS) forever if hydrogen from natural gas is to be considered low carbon.

Cadent thinks 93% of the CO2 can be captured from a hydrogen conversion plant in Cheshire and transported via repurposed gas pipelines to depleted gas fields Liverpool Bay. The firm believes around 1.5m tonnes of CO2 a year could be stored from the project, with the ENI-owned Liverpool Bay site able to contain around 150m tonnes of CO2.

Cadent thinks some of the CO2 can also be used. Though neither the report nor associated websitespells out how, COis used around the world for enhanced oil recovery.

Homes, industry and transport

A blend of up to 20% hydrogen would be injected into the existing gas grid for household and business use, says Cadent.

The company also plans to covert ten large industrial sites to run on up to to 100% hydrogen, which it will pipe to directly. Cadent would also take and store carbon dioxide already separated by local industry via pipeline.

As well as helping to decarbonise heavy industry, it says creating hydrogen infrastructure may also drive uptake of hydrogen vehicles by facilitating fuelling stations along the network route.

Costs and funding

Cadent claims the £920m project would deliver CO2 abatement for £114 per tonne, though it says this has the potential to fall.

Cadent, now mostly owned by a consortium that includes Macquarie and the Qatar Investment Authority, says it will need appropriate funding mechanisms or subsidies to undertake the project.

This could be via a levy on gas bills. Whereas electricity customers pay levies on bills to pay for decarbonisation, gas customers have not yet contributed to meeting the UK’s emission, Cadent notes.

The report moots a hybrid funding structure, whereby gas customers pay for the hydrogen and CO2capture elements of the project, and taxpayers, potentially through Industrial Strategy funding, foot some of the cost of the transport, storage and industrial conversion elements.

Cadent points out that if it goes ahead, the HyNet project would be the world’s first CCUS project at commercial scale. It notes that if government did not provide funding support, “it will need to take on the key risks for CCUS chain failure, as this cannot be borne by the private sector”.

See the report here.


ITM Opens 7th UK Hydrogen Refueling Station

ITM Power opens seventh UK hydrogen refuelling station as carmakers prepare new model launches

Hyundai Nexo: Carmaker’s second hydrogen vehicle launching imminently. (Credit: Creative Commons/Alexander Migl)

ITM Power today officially opens its seventh public hydrogen refuelling station in Swindon. The eighth will follow at Gatwick within the next three months.

The Swindon station, funded under European and UK initiatives, uses renewable electricity and water to generate hydrogen on-site, negating the need for gas deliveries. It is sited at Johnson Matthey, which makes fuel cell technology and believes its catalysts can help enable large-scale production of hydrogen.

Carmakers Toyota, Hyundai and Honda are supporting the venture, with Hyundai set to launch its ‘Nexo’ hydrogen model in the UK “imminently”, according to president and CEO, Tony Whitehorn.

ITM chief executive, Graham Cooley, said the company and its partners were working with local businesses “to develop a significant FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) fleet around the new station.”

Electromechanically-derived hydrogen, while using relatively large amounts of power, is clean and does not require carbon capture and storage, which must be implemented in hydrogen production using steam methane reformation if it is to be considered low carbon. Some companies, such as Vattenfall, believe it is a significant part of the solution to decarbonise industry and transport.

Others think hydrogen via electrolysis could help balance the power system. For example, excess wind generation could be used to create hydrogen, which can then be used for transport, and potentially heat applications.

The UK government has committed to £1.5bn in funding for ultra-low emissions vehicles by 2020 and recently announced around £100 million of funding for innovators in ultra-low-emission vehicles and hydrogen technology.


Support Mechanism Focus needs to be on Transport & Heating

Eon boss: Renewable power is done, now for heat and transport

Michael Lewis: Decarbonising power ‘done’, heat and transport next.

Eon CEO Michael Lewis believes the UK has largely cracked decarbonisation of power generation and must concentrate on heat and transport, which is where he said the energy company will concentrate its efforts.

Speaking at Aurora’s Spring Forum, Lewis, who took the reins from Tony Cocker a year ago, applauded the policy stability of successive previous governments in delivering renewables.

“[Renewable generation] has been a huge success, but in many ways, that is already done,” said Lewis. While there are “some issues around intermittency” to solve, “we have [achieved] renewable, low and zero carbon generation at a lower price than conventional generation. Now we need to turn to transport and heating – and that is where Eon wants to play a key role.”

He said heat and transport are at a similar juncture to renewables “ten or eleven years ago” and pointed out that while the UK has succeeded in delivering almost 40GW of renewable generation, “success was far from a forgone conclusion back then”.

Lewis said in 2008, Eon had two offshore projects under construction, “both hugely over budget and late”. The firm had another two in operation, both beset by technical difficulties. Meanwhile, the London Array project “came that close to not going ahead, and would not have gone ahead unless government had moved to two Rocs”.

Giving offshore wind developers additional subsidy at that point, he suggested, was now bearing fruit in enabling the economies of scale that are leading to cost reductions.

“We were about to make an £800m investment decision and needed to know that the government stood behind us, which they did, and created a world class industry.”

That foresight should now be applied to decarbonising heat and transport, said Lewis, which is where Eon will focus more fully.

“We believe our capabilities are better deployed where there is still a problem to be solved,” he said, suggesting the starting point should be “making the existing system more efficient.”

Under the proposed Eon-RWE deal, it has been announced that Eon will focus primarily on retail and networks, with RWE taking on generation.

Speaking at the same conference, SSE boss Alistair Phillips-Davies said he “saw the SSE-Npower merger going forward and being unaffected by the RWE-Eon deal”.


UK “Sleep Walking” Into Waste Infrastructure Capacity Deficiency

UK “Sleep Walking” Into Waste Infrastructure Capacity Deficiency

The UK is “sleep walking” into a waste infrastructure capacity deficiency and is likely to “panic” later when it’s clear there is a problem, according to Biffa’s Ian Wakelin.

The comments come as Wakelin (left), joined by SUEZ’s David Palmer-Jones (right), opened this year’s RWM exhibition in the Keynote theatre.

The session offered an overview of the year in the waste & recycling sector, with former CIWM CEO-turned-consultant Steve Lee chairing the duo. He kicked off the discussion by asking what they want to see in the government’s forthcoming Waste & Resources Strategy.

One of Wakelin’s overarching messages from the session was that the UK doesn’t have the waste infrastructure capacity to deal with its own waste and that it currently doesn’t have the right mix. He said the UK has a deficit of energy from waste (EfW) capacity and that 13m tonnes of combustible waste that could be burnt for energy currently isn’t because the facilities aren’t there.

He said the UK will make substantial progress and predicted the capacity gap will half in the next ten years, assuming it continues to export refuse derived fuel (RDF). He said it’s vital UK government decides what it needs and “would like” in terms of the role of EfW and that it needs to offer clarity, which will then help build confidence and investment in those vital facilities.

Both agreed that the impact of the “Blue Planet effect”, in that it has increased public awareness of resources sustainability and single-use plastic waste, has changed public sentiment “beyond all recognition”, and that for the resources sector to not deliver on this would be “unacceptable” and a “failure”.

In terms of recycling, he said that without extended producer responsibility (EPR), UK recycling will go “virtually nowhere” and that the Chinese sword has been a “big wake up call”.

Palmer-Jones said that he was not interested in “tweeking” the current systems and what he wants is “systemic” change. He said the failing recycling market needs to be addressed, along with the lack of data, which is essential for government to implement future-policy. He said EPR, balance and “pull-mechanisms” are vital. He also said that local government funding needs to be right, as do food waste systems.

He reiterated Wakelin’s comments that the industry needs confidence to invest and this needs to come from government and policy. With regard to building confidence, he questioned why the sector has to wait for the government’s budget to find out the rise in landfill tax and offered that a calculator would help develop confidence in the long run.

Lee asked if a strong domestic market for secondary materials would be enough to stimulate recycling, to which Palmer-Jones said having these materials remain in the UK is better than sending them abroad and that potentially a virgin plastic tax could help increase demand for secondary materials.

Wakelin offered that he doesn’t believe the UK will ever be self-sufficient in terms of a secondary materials market because it doesn’t have the manufacturing in place for the use of these materials. He said, “ironically” the UK could do more with plastics because of the value of the finished product, but paper would be “challenging”.

Tackling Brexit and the impact on UK resource businesses, Palmer-Jones said that currently we don’t know what type of Brexit we will get, and that this raises questions, such as what the port situation will be like and how this may affect RDF exports. He also raised the issue of migrant labour in the sector and that, with what will presumably be a stem of freedom of movement post-Brexit, this may become a problem.

Wakelin said that Brexit is a “political failure” and probably won’t be good for the UK economy. “Anyone who doesn’t worry about Brexit is a fool,” he said. He also stated that if it comes to the point where RDF can’t leave the country then the only place for it is landfill.

Both agreed that the impact of the “Blue Planet effect”, in that it has increased public awareness of resources sustainability and single-use plastic waste, has changed public sentiment “beyond all recognition”, and that for the resources sector to not deliver on this would be “unacceptable” and a “failure”.


China Restricts Import of Recycled Waste

What comes next after China's scrap ban surprise?

"The industry is going to survive. It’s just a question of what format does it survive in," said APR Executive Director Steve Alexander.


No Biodegradable Material to Landfill by 2020

Existing legislation (Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2014) will forbid the disposal of biodegradable material to landfill by December 2020. In Scotland we are only recycling around 35% of our waste - in Sweden they manage about 50% and send less than 1% to landfill sites. The other 50% that is not landfilled is used as fuel in energy-from-waste (EfW) plants that are highly efficient by virtue of the fact that they generate electricity but instead of wasting the heat, send hot water to their city and town district heating systems.