Medical News UK could use hydrogen instead of natural gas – if it can make enough


Medical News


14 June 2019

Keele University is experimenting with hydrogen as a natural gas replacementMark Waugh/Alamy Stock Photo
By Adam VaughanThere is no reason why the UK cannot safely switch from using natural gas to using hydrogen for heating, power and industry in order to meet climate change goals, engineers have said.
But a report by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) also laid bare the huge, ten-fold increase in hydrogen production that would be needed to achieve that switch-over.
Producing enough hydrogen for the UK’s heating needs alone would require 8 million tonnes of hydrogen a year, up from the annual 0.74 million tonnes made today, which is led by an Esso refinery near Southampton and is almost entirely used by industry. “We need to produce a lot more hydrogen,” says Jenifer Baxter of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


Methane to hydrogen
Hydrogen can be made from water using renewable energy and an electrolyser. But the IET said in reality making it at scale would require using a process known as steam reformation to turn methane into hydrogen, and capturing and storing the carbon at that point.
The British public is about to be exposed to hydrogen for heating and cooking. Within months, the gas supply for up to 100 properties on Keele University campus will be fed with 20 per cent hydrogen. Stuart Hawksworth of the UK’s Health and Safety Laboratory says the HyDeploy project is about understanding fire risk and hydrogen detection, as well as gaining more information about how to mix hydrogen with methane most efficiently.
“It’s the beginning of a suite of projects that will become more ambitious with more hydrogen in the mix,” he says. As hydrogen is invisible and odourless, it will also need to be mixed with additional chemicals to give it a colour and smell.
Costly transition
The engineers refused to put a figure on how much a switch to hydrogen would cost, but previous estimates have said putting electric heating and hydrogen boilers in homes would cost £28bn a year by 2050.
Separately, the International Energy Agency said on Friday that 2019 is a critical year for hydrogen and its production should be scaled up to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But a report by the energy watchdog also revealed how dirty the production of hydrogen from fossil fuels is today, releasing annual carbon emissions equivalent to Indonesia and the UK combined.
The group argued the current wave of interest in hydrogen is different from earlier ones in the noughties, 1990s and oil shocks of the 1970s, because those focused mainly on hydrogen as a transportation fuel whereas today it is being considered for uses across the economy, from power and heating to industry.

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