Aims include developing and trialling hydrogen-fuelled appliances

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has revealed plans to pipe £25 million into a new research programme exploring the use of hydrogen for heating.  

The aims of the demonstration project include defining a hydrogen quality standard and developing and trialling hydrogen fuelled appliances for homes and businesses.

The department has launched a £5 million tender to find a contractor to manage the programme, which will run from 2017 to 2020.

The tender notice states that the programme will “serve to support and inform future policy appraisal in government and to inform the development of policies and measures to meet UK carbon budgets.”

The announcement follows the publication of report commissioned by BEIS, which found that the development of domestic hydrogen appliances needs a “strong policy direction” from government. 

Four out of five households in Britain currently rely on natural gas to keep warm and cook dinner, and the burning of fossil fuels for heating accounted for 17 per cent of the UK’s emissions in 2015, according to the Committee on Climate Change.

The climate watchdog warned last year that the country could not continue to rely on the power sector to meet emissions reduction targets, and that progress on heating has “stalled due a gap in policy.

Among other things, it urged the government to begin large-scale pilots looking at the potential for hydrogen to provide low-carbon heating. This, it hoped, would enable ministers to decide on a long-term strategy for heating by the middle of the next decade.  

The combustion of hydrogen produces just heat and water, meaning the gas has zero carbon emissions at the point of use. However, concerns have been raised over how to source sufficent quantities in a way which is both low-carbon and cost-effective.

Renewables can be used to create hydrogen by passing the electricity they generate through water but the process – known as electrolysis – is energy intensive – with a ’round-trip’ efficiency of just 30 to 40 per cent according to the US-based Energy Storage Association. This can also make it expensive to produce.

Sourcing large voumes of hydrogen in this way would require lots of additional generation and a 2016 report by KPMG concluded that electrolysis could be not be used to produce the fuel in sufficient quantities to enable the conversion of the UK’s gas grids any time soon. 

Low-carbon hydrogen can also be produced from methane with the aid of carbon, capture and storage (CCS) but there are similarly concerns over the cost of CCS and progress to develop the technology has slowed to a crawl after the government cancelled a commercialisation competition towards the end of 2015.

A project led by Northern Gas Networks nevertheless concluded that converting the UK’s gas grid to run completely on hydrogen would be “technically possible and economically viable” and that doing so would reduce emissions from heating by at least 73 per cent.

As the first step towards a nationwide rollout, the final report outlined plans to convert gas grids in Leed to run on hydrogen supplied by CCS-enabled steam methane reformers in the Teesside area. 

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