The UK’s first-ever Hydrogen Strategy sets out plans for supporting a world-leading hydrogen energy economy in areas like Greater Manchester, although some elements have proved controversial.
Announced on 17 August, the Hydrogen Strategy sets the foundation for how government will work with industry to deliver new infrastructure capable of producing 5GW of hydrogen energy by 2030, creating thousands of jobs and unlocking billions in private investment as a result.
Hydrogen is expected to play an important role in the transition to a zero carbon energy system because it burns cleanly, producing only heat and water as byproducts. It has a range of potential uses as an alternative fuel for heavy industry and gas heating, as a transport fuel for heavy road vehicles, shipping, rail and aviation, or for fuel cells to create electric power.
The government’s analysis suggests that 20-35 per cent of the UK’s energy consumption by 2050 could be hydrogen-based. In Greater Manchester, work is already underway to develop a low carbon hydrogen fuel hub that will produce hydrogen fuel at scale from 2023, based at Trafford Park.
Blue vs green hydrogen
The big challenge facing industry and government is how to produce hydrogen cleanly and efficiently. The most common method today uses natural gas as a feedstock, generating carbon emissions in the process. These could potentially be captured using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, avoiding the release of most emissions into the atmosphere. This is known as ‘blue’ hydrogen and is the approach being followed by large flagship projects like HyNet in the North West.
However, hydrogen can also be produced without fossil fuels using renewable electricity. This is called ‘green’ hydrogen. The Hydrogen Strategy sets out the government’s plan for a ‘twin-track’ approach to subsidise both production methods, which has proved controversial in some quarters.
Ahead of the Hydrogen Strategy’s publication, CEO of green hydrogen firm Protium, Chris Jackson, resigned in his role as chair of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, calling blue hydrogen an “expensive distraction” that would lock-in continued fossil fuel use.
Policymakers will also need to decide how hydrogen should be prioritised. Some proponents advocate replacing natural gas with hydrogen for domestic heating, providing an alternative to having to replace gas boilers with electric heating systems like heat pumps. However, others argue that hydrogen should be prioritised for difficult-to-electrify industrial applications and heavy vehicles.
Several industrial trials are already underway in the North West. Unilever is running a trial to switch a gas-fired boiler to hydrogen at its Port Sunlight facility on the Wirral, which will produce steam for manufacturing processes. Glass manufacturer NSG-Pilkington is also testing hydrogen at its production furnace in St Helens.
Posted under General Interest, Environmental Regulations and Legislation and Environmental Technologies and Renewable Energy on 26 August 2021