Injecting hydrogen into the gas grid for lower carbon energy

Materials World magazine
29 Jan 2020

A project injecting hydrogen into natural gas supplies has been reported as fully operational, making it the first zero-carbon hydrogen grid in the UK. Ceri Jones reports.

The UK’s first zero-carbon hydrogen grid project came online in January 2020. Based at Keele University, Staffordshire, the £7mln HyDeploy project initiated its 10-month long trial in late 2019, which was reported as being fully operational in January this year.

‘Hydrogen can help us tackle one of the most difficult sources of carbon emissions – heat,’ Cadent Chief Safety and Strategy Officer, Ed Syson said. ‘This trial could pave the way for a wider roll out of hydrogen blending, enabling consumers to cut carbon emissions without changing anything they do.’

The aim of the project is to prove the concept of blending up to 20% hydrogen into natural gas supplies, to produce a lower carbon energy source than using natural gas alone. The project is supported by the UK government, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Ofgem, and other partners, to achieve the national target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

‘Natural gas is predominantly methane (CH4), which when burned gives CO₂ emissions - every methane molecule burned gives rise to one molecule of CO₂,’ Keele University Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Clean Technology and Inorganic Materials Chemistry Professor, Mark Ormerod, told Materials World. When burned, hydrogen gives only water, so it will reduce CO₂ emissions.

It’s a gas

HyDeploy is being rolled out in three phases, with the first now underway. Under phase one, called HyDeploy @ Keele, permission was gained from the HSE to inject up to 20% of hydrogen into the private gas network that serves the university as well as some residents in the surrounding area.

The team aims to demonstrate that this blending technique can safely and easily fulfill the demand of 30 of the campus buildings in addition to 100 local homes, without consumers noticing the difference, as no change of equipment or behaviour is required to run appliances.

Before the implementation of HyDeploy, gas safety checks were carried out in the homes and buildings in the trial area. They also carried out laboratory tests on a range of gas appliances, as well as extensive research on the effects of hydrogen on the different materials found in the gas network and the appliances.

In the process, the hydrogen is defined as low-carbon because it is sourced from firms ITM Power and Progressive Energy, which use electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, before injecting the latter product into the grid system.

According to Ormerod, the main obstacles are around current legislation of maximum H₂ levels in natural gas, and public and social perceptions around using it. They will need to ‘provide assurance that the house or business owner will not see any difference at all in heating and cooking compared to just using natural gas,’ Ormerod said. ‘Communications and this demonstration project are key in this respect.’

Following the anticipated success of phase one at Keele, the process will be rolled out on a larger scale across a designated area in North East England, followed by the North West. HyDeploy is currently reaching out to members of the public in the North East to inform them of the project and get them onboard by carrying out gas safety checks in homes, and answering any questions.

If regional trials prove successful, the team will seek government approval to transition to national adoption of hydrogen-natural blended gas supplies. According to HyDeploy, replacing 20% of current gas consumption with hydrogen would save the country six million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year. Ormerod believes that it will have a very significant impact if rolled out across the entire gas network.

HyDeploy is funded by Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competiton. The consortium consists of gas distributors Cadent and Northern Gas Networks, clean energy generator Progressive Energy Ltd, hydrogen power technology developer ITM Power, with Keele University and the HSE’s science division.