Is Leeds ready to become the UK’s ‘Hydrogen city’ hub?

A new report has proposed that the city of Leeds should convert its gas grid to an all-hydrogen version by 2030 in order to test the viability of using hydrogen to help meet national carbon reduction targets.

The Northern Gas Networks (NGN) has fronted the H21 Leeds City Gate project, which lays out the blueprints to convert Leeds into a “hydrogen city”. A new feasibility report from the project organisers has established that a switch away from methane would be “economically viable”.

NGN has claimed that the city should be considered as it has the optimal size and location for the conversion, which could start in Leeds by 2026 at the cost of £2bn, before being rolled-out nationally.

“This is a major opportunity for our country to become a world leader in hydrogen technology and decarbonisation and would create thousands of new jobs across the UK,” H21’s project manager Dan Sadler said.

The report noted that more than 30% of all UK carbon emissions were sourced from domestic heating and cooking, and that hydrogen conversion would reduce emissions from heating by at least 73%.

‘Exciting concept’

The conversion wouldn’t require any additional appliances and existing underground infrastructure would be utilised to store hydrogen, while carbon would be removed and stored in “geological storage locations” found under the North Sea. The proposals, which have been supported by Leeds City Council and local enterprise partnerships, could save up to 1.5m tonnes of carbon emissions each year. 

“Transforming Leeds into a hydrogen city would be a bold step. It could play a crucial role in how we heat and power our homes in the future alongside other sustainable energy sources,” Leeds City Council’s councillor Lucinda Yeadon said.

“The project has massive potential to make a significant dent in the city’s environmental performance, as well as opening up a wealth of opportunities for innovation, manufacturing and low carbon transport. Working closely with Northern Gas Networks and our partners, we’re keen to develop this exciting concept further”.

The report notes that the existing infrastructure would prove suitable because of the UK’s involvement in the Iron Mains Replacement Programme (IMRP). The scheme was adopted in 2002 and saw the majority of nation gas distribution pipes converted to polyethylene – which is considered an ideal material for transporting hydrogen.

With IMRP scheduled for completion in 2032, the H21 report argues that this timeframe would be a suitable target to start a nationwide conversion.

Harnessing hydrogen

If the conversion were completed Leeds would take over the unofficial mantra of “Europe’s Hydrogen city” from Aberdeen. The city recently became the first in Europe to offer hydrogen powered cars for public use on a pay-as-you-go basis, as part of the City Council’s next step in expanding hydrogen infrastructure.

Purdue University in Illinois is conducting tests of the viability of hydrogen to power cities, albeit with a twist. The University has been running tests on ‘hydricity’ – a solar-hydrogen energy hybrid system which has the potential to power cities around the clock.

Hydricity combines solar generation with hydrogen production and storage that the researchers claim could rival solar PV systems and energy storage technologies in driving a low-carbon transition.

Matt Mace

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