By backing the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen the government could be in “danger” of supporting technologies that make “minimal or no contributions” to the UK’s climate change objectives, a new cross-party inquiry has warned.
The “Producing Low Carbon Gas” report, the second in the “Future Gas” series of studies published by Carbon Connect with backing from the MPs, says hydrogen could help to reduce emissions from heat, industry and transport.
The report, which examines a number of routes to encourage the uptake of hydrogen, says there may be reasons to incentivise the development of alternatives to natural gas by providing initial policy support to gases produced with “minimal” carbon benefit.
However, it warns that there is “a danger of providing support for supposedly ‘green’ technologies which make minimal or no contributions to the UK’s climate change objectives”.
The report says that switching the gas grid of entire cities to hydrogen is likely, at least initially, to be predominantly based on methods, which involve the conversion of natural gas, such as using steam, generating carbon dioxide as a by-product.
The carbon intensity of this process depends on the proportion of emissions that can be trapped by carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
The lower emitting electrolysis process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen is currently “less affordable” at large scale than conversion of natural gas, according to the report.
In the longer term large scale production hydrogen through electrolysis could be “more affordable” and the process can make “immediate contributions on a smaller scale”, it says.
The report also says that emissions for manufacturing biomethane from waste are significantly lower than from crops.
“If further policies are brought forward to encourage the production of low carbon gases, a decision will need to be made about how low carbon these gases are required to be.”
It also raises concerns over the security of supply of hydrogen although in the long term it suggests that there is scope for the development of an international market for storing the gas.
Part three of the series will be launched in early 2019 and will examine consumer issues related to a transition to low carbon gas.
James Heappey MP (Conservative), chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Renewable and Sustainability Energy, said: “Low carbon gas offers an opportunity to drive clean growth across the UK.
“There are clear opportunities for the UK to start to build up a market for low carbon gas and become an international leader in this area. This report offers a timely and substantial contribution to the discussion on the UK’s future energy policy.”
Alan Whitehead (Labour), shadow energy minister, said: “There is an urgent need for action to reduce emissions in areas like domestic heat and industrial processes.
“Low carbon gases offer one of the routes to doing this but if their potential is to be realised, the technologies which produce them will need to be deployed more widely. There is also a great opportunity to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill while supporting our climate change targets by using it to feed gas production.”