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Hydrogen – The Time Is Now

04 August 2020
The Government is committed to the development of hydrogen as a strategic decarbonised energy carrier for the UK and has worked with industry to launch a new Hydrogen Advisory Council. In this article, we look at the future for hydrogen and the potential for the UK to be at the forefront of low carbon hydrogen production and supply.

In 1874, Jules Verne famed for his science-fiction novels wrote 'I believe that water will one day be employed as a fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable'. [1]

Fast forward 146 years and the cross-industry campaign group 'Hydrogen Strategy Now', with sponsor partners employing around 100,000 people with a value of £100billion in the UK, announced they have £1.5billion to invest in hydrogen in various forms. In June 2020 the campaign group called on the Chancellor to announce a clear strategy for developing a UK wide hydrogen strategy to allow the UK to achieve its potential to become a global leader in low-carbon hydrogen technology.

As one of the partner sponsors of 'Hydrogen Strategy Now' DWF wrote to all members of Parliament, Local Authority Leaders and Members of the Upper House linked to our 9 office locations in the UK, with our Executive Office leads in these locations asking for support for the campaign. In response, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy responded with information about the UK's plans for hydrogen. They say that Government is committed to the development of hydrogen as a strategic decarbonised energy carrier for the UK. Government is currently developing its strategic approach to hydrogen and its potential to deliver against its net zero goals and will set out its plans in due course. 

Government is currently undertaking extensive stakeholder engagement as it develops new policy to help bring forward the technologies and supply chain it will need to grow the UK hydrogen economy. This includes business models to support the deployment of, and investment in, low carbon hydrogen production and a £100m Low Carbon Hydrogen Production Fund to stimulate capital investment. 
The Government and industry has worked together to launch a new Hydrogen Advisory Council, which Minister Kwasi Kwarteng MP co-chaired for the first time on 20 July 2020. The Council will enable Government to work in partnership with Industry to ensure the UK is at the forefront of low carbon hydrogen production and supply. The Council will initially focus on actions to enable the scale-up of hydrogen production, and its membership reflects this. The Council will oversee a range of workstreams to support the development of a robust UK hydrogen economy. Government has requested that DWF provide our views on unlocking private sector investment and further thoughts about our vision for the UK hydrogen economy. DWF has established a Hydrogen Working Group, led by Darren Walsh, Energy Partner and Head of Power; and we fully intend to engage with Government and the Council to share our thoughts and analysis in these important areas.

In June 2020 Baroness Brown, vice-chair of the Committee on Climate Change said "The UK missed the boat on wind technology and missed the boat on batteries. We can't afford to miss the boat on hydrogen."  As the Chancellor looks to design a post-COVID recovery, the time for a co-ordinated effort between the government and industry to kickstart and create jobs in a future-proof, sustainable and globally relevant sector is now.

By February 2020 the Government had invested £90million in hydrogen projects to enable industries to develop and deploy hydrogen technologies and £70million of investment in new hydrogen supply and industrial fuel switching projects. 

On 22 July 2020 we saw the government commit a further £350million through an investment package in low-carbon technologies across the industrial, construction and materials sectors. The package includes £139million to cut emissions in heavy industry by supporting the transition from natural gas to clean hydrogen power and scaling up carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology which can stop over 90% of emissions being released from industrial plants into the air by storing carbon permanently underground.

 

Europe

The European Commission has a clear ambition to stimulate reliance on hydrogen before 2030 (as highlighted in its Hydrogen Strategy [2] and Energy Integration Strategy [3], published in July 2020). The Commission considers there is significant potential for renewable and low-carbon hydrogen to be produced in large quantities domestically within the European Union and that there is the need to create a dedicated hydrogen pipeline network. The Gas for Climate study 'Gas Decarbonisation Pathways 2020 to 2050' highlighted that a large quantity of 1700 TWh of hydrogen could be produced within the EU by 2050. 

In Europe there are good solar and wind energy resources, particularly in Northern and Southern Europe. However, the areas with good resources are typically distant from the energy demanded at industrial sites and in European cities. Conversion to hydrogen at the solar and wind farms offers the opportunity to transport the electricity over large distances relatively cheaply and without losses.

Europe already has a vast natural gas infrastructure and if this asset can be converted for the transport and storage of hydrogen it has the potential to provide Europe with a unique opportunity to produce sustainable products and services whilst stimulating economic growth through the creation of green jobs.
A group of eleven European gas infrastructure companies from nine EU member states have now produced a paper, 'European Hydrogen Backbone' [4], with a plan to accelerate a large scale-up of hydrogen by enabling its transport from supply to demand across Europe through a dedicated pipeline of 23,000km by 2040, 75% of which will consist of converted natural gas pipelines connected by new pipelines. The preliminary estimate cited in the paper suggested that the pipeline network should be able to transport more than the expected 1,130 TWh of annual hydrogen demand in Europe by 2040 and cost between €27 and €64 billion.

 

Opportunities in the UK

Hydrogen is principally produced in two ways, "blue hydrogen" made from natural gas, mitigated by carbon capture, use and storage and "green hydrogen" made by turning surplus energy produced by renewal energy technologies at times of low demand into a fuel that can be stored and transported. The UK is well placed to reap the benefits of generating hydrogen from either method. 

The UK already has a system of connected gas pipelines in place and depleted oil and gas wells in the North Sea for carbon storage along with the connecting network of pipelines linking to the industrial heartlands of Grangemouth, Teeside and the Humber, where the hydrogen can be fully harnessed. Alternatively the UK has the option of making good use of disused salt caves (already in use in Teeside) to store massive amounts of hydrogen cheaply.

The UK Committee on Climate Change 'the CCC' has supported the UK in committing to deliver at least 40GW (gigawatts) of offshore wind by 2030 and in its 'Reducing UK emissions: 2020 Progress Report to Parliament' (issued on 25 June 2020) added that there is further potential for more than 75GW of offshore wind to be operational in the UK by 2050. The UK's commitment to offshore wind fits neatly with enhancing the its hydrogen production, given the vast offshore wind farms in the North Sea could be utilised to generate power in the production of hydrogen efficiently.

By 2024 the EU has set a goal of having 6GWs of electrolysers (able to extract renewable electricity, breaking down water and producing hydrogen and oxygen) installed by 2024 (there are reportedly 250 megawatts in place globally in 2020), by 2030 40GWs of electrolysers installed within its borders and another 40GWs in place in neighbouring countries that can export to the EU.

The UK is ahead of the game as it already has world class investment in electrolysers and the world's largest producer of polymer membrance electrolysers is based in Sheffield. In addition a group of other firms in the UK have already become early proponents in employing hydrogen technology in boilers, construction equipment, fuel cells, membrances and hydrogen-powered trains.

Jules Vernes' vision is no longer a work of science fiction, it is a reality and hydrogen presents an immeasurable opportunity for the UK to become a global leader in low-carbon hydrogen technology and derive the enconomic benefits of an expanding global industry with almost unlimited potential.

References:

[1] L'île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island) 1874
[2] European Commission, A hydrogen strategy for climate-neutral Europe, COM(2020)310;
[3] European Commision, Powering a climateneutral economy: an EU strategy for Energy System Integration, COM(2020)299.
[4] European Hydrogen Backbone: How A Dedicated Hydrogen Infrastructure Can Be Created (July 2020) Enegás, Energinet, Fluxys Belgium, Gasunie, GRTgaz, NET4GAS, OGE, ONTRAS, Snam, Swedegas, Teréga

 

DWF Law LLP has a breadth of expertise in Energy matters. The Government has requested that DWF provide our views on unlocking private sector investment and further thoughts about our vision for the UK hydrogen economy. DWF has established a Hydrogen Working Group, led by Darren Walsh, Energy Partner and Head of Power; and we fully intend to engage with Government and the Council to share our thoughts and analysis in these important areas.

Co-authors: Darren Walsh, Partner and Barnaby Rosenthall, Solicitor

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