Does UK Hydrogen Strategy Hold Water?

| Transport

Hydrogen could have a significant role in providing emissions free energy by the middle of the century

UK industry has reacted in a number of ways to the strategy for using hydrogen for meeting the Government’s climate targets

In August, the UK Government outlined its Hydrogen Strategy that has the potential to unlock tens of thousands of jobs, billions of pounds in investment and new export opportunities, according to the Business and Energy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng.

The strategy takes the form of a 10 point plan to meet the UK ambition for 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by the end of the decade, which could replace natural gas in powering around 3 million UK homes each year as well as powering transport and businesses, particularly heavy industry.

In the UK, a low-carbon hydrogen economy could deliver emissions savings equivalent to the carbon captured by 700 million trees by 2032 and is a key method for capitalising on cleaner energy sources as the UK moves away from fossil fuels.

Measures included in the strategy include collaborating with industry to develop a UK standard for low carbon hydrogen giving certainty to producers and users that the hydrogen the UK produces is consistent with net zero while supporting the deployment of hydrogen across the country. It also outlines a ‘twin track’ approach to supporting multiple technologies including ‘green’ electrolytic and ‘blue’ carbon capture-enabled hydrogen production, and committing to providing further detail in 2022 on the government’s production strategy

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas with Carbon Dioxide as a by-product and therefore giving questionable benefits in the road to carbon neutrality. Green hydrogen doesn’t require the burning of fossil fuels to produce it so holds a more strategic place in the overall strategy.

To support the development of the industry, the government is providing a £240 million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund to support new hydrogen production projects as well as industry specific funds for hydrogen transport projects including £120 million for zero emission buses, up to £20 million for hydrogen long haul HGVs, £20 million for the Clean Maritime Demonstration competition and £15 million for the “Green Fuels, Green Skies” aviation competition.

HYCAP Investment Fund

The announcement was met by strong reaction within UK business and industry. Entrepreneur and “Wrightbus” boss, Jo Bamford is arguably at the head of the charge towards hydrogen with the launch of the HYCAP hydrogen investment fund to raise £1 billion.

The fund already stands at more than £200m after the first round of investment and will focus on speeding-up green hydrogen production and supply, creating jobs and contributing to the Government’s targets.

According to Bamford, hydrogen holds the key to reducing emissions and there is a growing sense of urgency to act now. “The UK has missed the boat on batteries, a sector dominated by China and the Far East, but we can be global leaders in the production and supply of hydrogen – an economy said to be worth $2.5 trillion in revenues by 2050,” he says.

So far, more than 40 firms in the hydrogen sector have been identified and which will be evaluated for investment. These represent all stages of hydrogen production and use. “The fund will be investing across the entire value chain, focusing on production, manufacture and supply, in order to put the UK firmly on the map when it comes to hydrogen,” says one of the funds founders.

Zero Emission Fire Appliances

One organisation already benefiting from government funding is ULEMCo, the Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle specialist, which is working with the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service to design the fuel cell electric powertrain configuration for zero emission fire appliances.

The funding was secured through Innovate UK under the Transition to Zero Emission programme. In the first stage of the project, the partners will develop a deep understanding of the specific duty cycles for emergency service vehicles that need 24/7 readiness, and enough energy on board for four to 40 hours continuous running.

The work will involve creating a thorough understanding and a detailed model of the current energy requirement. This will include the energy needed to pump water for a minimum of four hours, as well as the optimal range requirement. The test process will gather real world data based on the performance of an OEM manufactured fuel cell over the course of the project.

Alongside the study, the County Council will develop a plan for the hydrogen refuelling requirements across Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, and how this fits with the wider plans to develop a hydrogen infrastructure across the county under the Government’s new strategy.

According to Pete Sudbury, the County’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change Delivery & Environment, hydrogen could play an important role in decarbonisation, especially where battery powered electrification is challenging in heavy duty vehicles like fire engines.

“I’m delighted that we are involved in this feasibility study as an important step in exploring and advancing zero carbon transport in the county,” he says.

Global Experience

Engineering consultancy company, Wood has also received hydrogen funding awards and sees a medium term prospect of around $600m worth of potential hydrogen projects.

Currently, Wood is working on a blue ammonia production facility in Abu Dhabi to drive the development of hydrogen in the Middle East. Similarly, the company’s hydrogen technology is being used on the first advanced biofuels project in South America, at the Omega Green production facility in Paraguay.

Wood also entered into a three-year engineering framework agreement with Norway-based NEL Hydrogen to develop and execute large scale, complex green renewable hydrogen projects globally.

The consultancy expects to use its experience in other countries to be at the forefront of the drive towards hydrogen in the UK. A steering group member of the Hydrogen Council, which brings together more than 100 companies from across the hydrogen value chain, Wood is well positioned to influence the hydrogen rollout in the country.

According to Andrew Stewart, Executive President of Strategy and Development at Wood, hydrogen is a key growth area, which will gain strong momentum.

“As the world’s population increases the demand for clean, affordable and reliable energy is unrelenting. Together with our clients, we’re unlocking hydrogen at pace and at an industrial scale as one of the mission critical pathways to a more sustainable future,” he says.

Industry reaction

So does the strategy hold water and can the UK become a major hydrogen economy as the Government expects? Reaction is predominently positive but at this early stage, the pathway to achieving its aims are unclear and industry experts are expressing concern over the directions that need to be taken.

Jonathan Newell
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