Call for government to ‘step up’ support for hydrogen

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has called on the government to "step up" its support for the use of hydrogen to decarbonise the energy system across power, heat and transport.

In a new report, the professional body extols the virtues of the gas as a much-needed source of storage and a “conduit for connecting the energy system together”.

“Government and industry need to step up efforts to provide funding programmes and demonstration sites to encourage the greater use of hydrogen as energy storage,” said lead author and IMechE head of engineering, Jennifer Baxter.

“The UK has a strong track record of being at the cutting edge of new energy developments, and this could present the country with a chance to be a world leader in power-to-gas and hydrogen technology.”

The report says hydrogen has the potential to fulfil a number of key roles, including heating homes, fuelling vehicles, feeding industrial processes and storing up excess renewable electricity for when it is needed.

Using it as part of an integrated energy system would allow gas networks to act as a “lung” for electricity networks. Surplus renewable generation could be converted into hydrogen via electrolysis and injected into the gas grid, before being fed into fuel cells and gas turbines to produce power when renewable output drops.

The report urges caution over the adoption of lithium-ion batteries as the go-to storage solution for both power and transport. It warns that the technology still faces challenges in terms of “duration of electricity storage, efficiencies and losses, size, and perhaps more concerning the sustainability of the materials used in battery technologies and the long-term management of wastes and recycling.”

It notes that, although the majority of lithium used in batteries is currently extracted by evaporating the metal out of brine using heat from the sun, more energy-intensive process such as crushing are expected to be deployed as demand rises.

The extraction of the cobalt used in cathodes is not usually environmentally friendly and supplies may be insufficient to sustain the “electric vehicle revolution” over the long run.

“Another concerning aspect of the life of the lithium-ion battery is the ability to effectively recycle these materials,” the report adds.

It says concerns have also been raised over the use of rare and expensive platinum in fuel cells and electrolysers, but “industry calculations have shown that the total resource requirement for platinum in the latest fuel cell vehicles is broadly similar to that used in catalytic converters for engine-powered vehicles”.

Meanwhile, there are multiple benefits to the use of hydrogen as a storage solution. It can be stored in the gas grid, pressurised canisters or salt caverns for “minutes, days, weeks or months, making it a more valuable medium than the battery”.

Electrolysers can also provide “sub-second response and continuous operating durations of days, weeks or months as required by electricity grid operators, making them a more valuable energy converter than a battery”.

The report includes three key recommendations to accelerate the deployment of hydrogen.

Firstly, the government should create an industrial forum bringing together the nuclear, renewable and gas sectors to promote the use of hydrogen. “Investment now in the future hydrogen economy will begin to encourage further innovation, open up markets and help clarify legislation and regulation,” it explains.

Secondly, the government should work with the gas industry to promote the injection of up to 20 per cent hydrogen into gas distribution networks, including supporting changes to pipes and materials. It says funding programmes and demonstration projects will be crucial: “Government has the power to finance research, development and demonstration and support deployment through programmes such as Innovate UK.”

Finally, the government should commission a comprehensive comparative study of the long-term sustainability of lithium-ion batteries in comparison to electrolysers and fuel cells. This will allow it to make an evidence-based decision on the best solution for the energy system.

Tom Grimwood

This article first appeared on edie’s sister title, Utility Week

Comments (2)

  1. C. Alvin Scott says:

    I have been saying exactly this for many months. However, I also say clearly that the direction Hydrogen High pressure storage and fuel cells should not be seen as the only option. All Hydrogen innovation should be funded and developed to the point of failure or to Proof of Concept. We are not in normal business development situation,

    We, that is globally, are in a dire situation and we should stop looking at Low-Carbon as an option and stop funding development projects. The sole Objective should be Zero Emissions, Hydrocarbons- diesels are an Health Hazard and would be a Court Case if it were a Work Place, whilst continued use of all Fossil Fuels risks a Mass Extinction and yet Oil and Gas are allowed to continue with business as usual, even Tax Payer subsidies.

    Hydrogen = Zero Emissions and when used it is used it returns to being water.

    Hydrogen Combustion-Internal Steam Turbine-generator is one option, however it appears that those in charge of funding awards are willing to spend millions on petrol engine development projects, but not spend under 100,000 to carry out "initial modelling" of this new engine type.

    Add to that, the fact that a US company have developed a H2 Production system for On Board the EV fuel supply. This was developed for use with H2 Fuel Cell EVs, but unfortunately when on the move the Fuel Cell became blocked due to Air Impurities caused by vehicle movement.

    The fact that H2 Combustion will not be affected by these Air Impurities should flash a Massive Green Light for people who are supposedly looking for Zero emissions.

    The equally important fact that a "hydrogen engine-generator" offers the quickest and easiest route to Affordable Zero Emissions EVs to effect mass take up of Clean Energy in transport.

    Whilst On Board the EV Hydrogen production, would cut the need for millions of Charge points and increases in generating capacity globally and grid scale up, which will amount to $trillions saved.

    This is being blocked at present, "reservations that the engine will not work"
    yes these issues are accepted.
    a) Combustion of Hydrogen in a Combustion chamber is well known,
    b) using high temperature to generate steam is like wise well known,
    c) using high temperature gasses and steam to power a turbine is also well known
    d) internally generating steam and forming a number of jets to power the turbine is a new innovation bringing together Steam power which has been "External Combustion" with "internal Combustion".

    Is this person who daily develops petrol engines to improve emissions saying that he cannot correct the issues, NO he is saying that he is not going to even look at initial modelling to be able to assess what improvements could be made to make HyPulJet work.

    Have to pose the question, "If HyPulJet used petrol as the combustion fuel would this project be awarded funding to be developed?"

    Al Scott

  2. C. Alvin Scott says:

    Just noticed that Innovate UK is mentioned. Sorry to say but this company along with a number of linked funding bodies have some difficulty.

    They way they are set up and the rules actually bring about Corporate Welfare.
    The rules insist that any innovation is business led and it is the case that businesses do not do Open Innovation, so that this excludes individual innovators.

    Also that the innovator needs to have an exceptional Bank Balance to fund 30% part funding award, The requirement to get to TRL 3 also excludes many innovative ideas because the innovator does not have access to machines and equipment or expertise/support.

    There are many instances of innovators not actually being a specialist within the area of the innovative idea. Clergyman= Hydrogen plus a few other, Sir Frank Whittle = Jet engine could not be a Expert on Jet Engines.
    Daimler = Internal Combustion engine not done before etc etc.

    Were any of these part of a company or business? Under Innovate UK Funding Competition Rules these people would have been excluded.

    A mass of innovation is being missed, well known and recognised fact. Successive Govt have said they will sort "Death Valley" and Nothing.

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