UK’s first grid-injected hydrogen trials begin in Staffordshire

Pictured: An engineer tests boilers running on the hydrogen gas blend. Image: Cadent

Called HyDeploy, the pilot involves injecting hydrogen into Keele University’s existing natural gas network, which supplies 30 faculty buildings and 100 domestic properties.

As a result, hydrogen will account for up to 20% of the gas mix in the network. HyDeploy claims this is the highest proportion being tested in Europe at present, given that existing UK legislation prevents hydrogen accounting for more than 0.1% of the national grid mix at any time.

The pilot will be used to test the practicalities of increasing hydrogen in the gas mix, including cost, safety and ease of supply. Should the model be successful and be scaled up across England, researchers at Keele estimate it could mitigate the emission of six million tonnes of CO2e emissions annually.

Backed by Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition, HyDeploy is being led by Cadent in partnership with Northern Gas Networks, Keele University, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Science Division, ITM-Power and Progressive Energy.

Cadent’s chief safety and strategy officer Ed Syson said he hopes the trial will “pave the way for a wider roll-out of hydrogen blending”, which could “enable consumers to cut carbon emissions without changing anything that they do” and “prove to be the launchpad for a wider hydrogen economy”.

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of this trial to the UK – this is the first-ever practical demonstration of hydrogen in a modern gas network in this country,” Syson said. “Urgent action is needed on carbon emissions and HyDeploy is an important staging post on that journey in the UK.”

Living laboratory

Keele University’s deputy vice chancellor Professor Mark Ormerod said the University team are “delighted “to use their campus as a “genuine living laboratory” for new low-carbon technologies.

Prior to the launch of HyDeploy, the consortium had to apply for an exemption to the current limit on hydrogen in the UK gas network. Its application was backed up by lab tests on gas appliances and materials found within the university’s gas network.

Readers keen to find out more about HyDeploy can read edie’s ‘In Practice’ case study on the initiative here.

HyDeploy is notably not the only live low-carbon trial underway at Keele. The University is working to turn its campus into Europe’s largest integrated “living laboratory” for “smart” energy technologies through its Smart Energy Network Demonstrator (SEND). The project is being supported by academics, graduates and businesses including Siemens.

The heat is on

Back in 2016, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) estimated that heating and hot water for homes accounted for 15% of the UK’s carbon footprint.

According to Cadent, when heat for business and heavy industry is included – and growth over the past three years accounted for – the figure is likely to be closer to 33%.

With the nation currently off-track to meet a key target of ensuring 12% of heat is generated using renewables by 2020 and the new 2050 net-zero deadline looming, Ministers are facing ever-greater pressure to implement better low-carbon heating measures.

Just last month, CCC chair Lord Deben said that the Conservative Party, Labour Party and Liberal Democrats are all approaching the decarbonisation of heat “too delicately”. Similarly, Citizens Advice has said the Government’s lack of a “credible” low-carbon heat plan could undermine its ability to deliver a “just” transition to net-zero.

In October 2018, a £320m Government scheme was launched to assist commercialisation of low-carbon technologies across the UK’s public, private and domestic sectors.  Announcements since then, however, have been scarce, bar the introduction of an Energy Systems Catapult centre to assist small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) with decarbonising their heat systems. There is no sign yet of a sector deal.

Sarah George

Comments (12)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    The problem with Hydrogen, which I will keep saying until the "greens" listen, is it takes more energy to make it (from water or CH4) than you get back by burning it or using it in fuel cells etc. And if you make it from Methane it is not a zero carbon fuel at all.
    Not only that it leaks from every single pressure or storage vessel we have (I know from personal experience in a lab environment) so you can not keep it for long term storage.

    However, if the Hydrogen can be created from "waste" water (unlikely as you need pure, deionised water ideally) using dedicated clean electricity (rather than the so called "excess" people keep going on about) on an "on demand" basis and it can be bled in to a local gas network that uses biogas from waste food (Anaerobic Digestion) then maybe we could be onto a winner.

    Think about it for a moment; local waste food turned into biogas, mixed with local Hydrogen to heat local homes. Not only do you get rid of a waste stream but you massively reduce emissions without having to totally replace every central heating system in the country. That’s a huge financial saving.

    Now all we need to do is find some way to turn waste food into bio kerosene for those of us who don’t live on the gas grid.

  2. Ken Pollock says:

    I note that neither this article nor the one from edie’s "In Practice" strand, makes any reference to the source of hydrogen. Roger Harrabin has said on his BBC News feed that it will be generated from water by hydrolysis. The electricity for this operation will come from "surplus" wind generated electricity, where the supply exceeds the demand.
    No reference as the the energy cost of that process, to discount against the energy content of the gas used for the grid. On the other hand, one might not need 25 million new domestic boilers. They will each just need conversion, taking between 30 and 60 minutes. Quite a job…

  3. Keiron Shatwell says:

    @Ken – Hydrogen can be made by hydrolysis from pure water as you say but also by cracking Methane (CH4) to give 2H2 and CO2, which coincidently enough is also what you get when you combust Methane (well the H2 is bound up as Water but that is the end product of burning Hydrogen anyway). H2O is also a potent greenhouse gas.

    The problem with both is the amount of energy to achieve this is far greater than the energy returned from the Hydrogen, unless you turn it into an H bomb of course. In the case of the Methane derived Hydrogen this negates the point of the Hydrogen as you get the same end products and much more energy from the combustion of the Methane directly. So cut out the middle man and don’t bother with Methane derived Hydrogen as it is energy inefficient and just as "high" carbon as burning gas.

  4. Ken Pollock says:

    Keiron, I think we are of one mind on this, but I did not expect you to claim that the energy needed to liberate H2 is greater than available in the H2 that is so liberated. A negative sum, therefore not worth doing.
    I was at a conference in London last year where someone proposed piping hydrogen across the S Wales valleys, as a "clean" fuel source. Great idea – where did the H2 come from? Cracking methane in Milford Haven, having been shipped in from Qatar. Oh, that meant he needed CCS for the CO2 created. Never mind the energy required to split the methane. And he was treated as a sensible engineer!!!
    Not sure about AD for food waste. Too much capital, too much digestate to go back on farms when they don’t need it, and why not feed it to pigs, like we used to? The digestate is "sterilised" before it goes on to land anyway. Do that properly to the original food and you have "safe" pig swill – and much less bother! My PhD was in ag eng and water pollution from pig slurry…

  5. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Ken, The Hydrogen – Oxygen bond is extremely strong so takes a lot of energy to break. I used to use a Hydrogen Generator to produce lab grade Hydrogen from distilled and deionised water and it does use a lot of power to produce the gas plus a lot of chemicals to purify the water too.

    While yes it is a net negative result if it were done locally for local gas grids then the fact the entire gas infrastructure would not need to be replaced or substituted would means overall it would be effective. But it isn’t suitable for the National Gas Grid. The amount of electricity needed to provide that much Hydrogen would be better utilised as the primary source of energy to heat directly.

    Sadly a lot of "green" sounding ideas are total garbage when you really look into them. Hydrogen might have a future as a small scale heating fuel but the numbers just don’t add up. Particularly if it is produced from Natural Gas.

  6. Ken Pollock says:

    Keiron, Please assure me that you have the ear of government on this matter! It seems we are led by people with no mathematical or engineering understanding – which would be fine if we had a numerate and technically competent civil service. Dominic Cummings seems to believe the latter is not true and I have reason to believe he is right.
    Meanwhile, we must not give up and need to inform our MPs of the truth about "greens" and the implacable laws of thermodynamics…

  7. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Ken I wish!!
    You are right though that our leaders generally have no or little scientific or engineering background. The have advisers but then decide to ignore the advice and do what they want anyway. We are the willing, lead by the unknowing, doing the impossible, for the ungrateful as the saying goes.

    It is through organisations like Edie and others that we might, possibly, have a chance to inform not just our MPs but also the "sheeple" that not everything green is really green and that science, particularly the laws of physics, can’t be changed.

    Yes Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, merely changed

  8. Ken Pollock says:

    Keiron, good to meet a kindred spirit, when I am normally written off as an out of touch Neanderthal. I just wish those of a green persuasion had some concept of scale, and the implications of what they wish for. Must try harder to convince…

  9. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Ken I know what you mean but that is the risk one takes as a scientist, and a Geologist at that. The "greens" mean well and have the right idea at heart but as we know the "road to hell is paved with good intentions".

    Unless it is scientifically and engineeringly sound it doesn’t matter how green an idea sounds a bad idea is a bad idea no matter what the "colour" of it. We have to be wary of "knee jerk" reactions as when you look closer often the so called "green" option is worse environmentally than the problem it is trying to solve (Electric Vehicles may be one of those cases in my humble opinion).

    Always good to know there are others out there, like me, who aren’t going to take "green" propaganda at face value but will research and look at the big picture.

  10. Ben Burton says:

    Because of hydrogen embrittlement of steel, and corrosion natural gas pipes require internal coatings or replacement in order to convey hydrogen.
    Natural Gas with hydrogen concentrations above 10% can start to cause corrosion with steel within the distribution piping systems.

  11. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Ben – thanks for pointing out another downside of Hydrogen

  12. Ben Burton says:

    The whole idea of this is utter stupidity… As you both have highlighted below the thermal-dynamic mechanics of this is useless. All this excess power they speak of cant just be ramped up and down that quickly as the power plants are now the balancing mechanisms to prevent over or under voltage/frequency of the grid through uncontrollable renewable energy output.
    Fuel cells require rare earth metals, very expensive to produce.
    to create the hydrogen from the excess power they speak of will require 150% more generation on the grid, not counting the energy density of hydrogen compared to other fuels.
    Electric Cars complete waste, consider the 33 million cars in the UK converting to electric now draw 3kw each to charge!
    Thats almost 100Gw of power the uk grid only produces 45Gw currently not to mention the amount of extra cabling in the ground that required upgrading to transmit it.
    Now look at the fact that the round trip efficiency of hydrogen is 70% efficient to produce so that power requirement will be even greater!!!

    Ill leave it the ill informed politicians without our a scrape of common sense to work the rest out of how their going to send the world into darkness.

    Maybe Greta Turdburg has the answers ?

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