One of the UK’s leading energy academics has cast doubt on whether carbon capture and storage (CCS) can be relied upon to facilitate the mass conversion of the heating system to hydrogen.

Professor Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, expressed his reservations during a conference on gas security organised by Westminster Forum in London last week.

Capturing the CO2, which is a by-product of the steam-methane technique for creating hydrogen, would reduce the carbon emissions from the process that is regarded as the most affordable method of creating the low emission gas.

The government has signalled a fresh commitment in last year’s Clean Growth Strategy to CCS after withdrawing support from the technology in 2015.

But Prof Watson expressed concern that CCS had yet to be sufficiently tested to establish whether it could be rolled out on the mass scale required to underpin the low carbon conversion of the gas network.

He said: “There has been some activity but nowhere near enough when you match it with what people expect from that technology. If we are not going to do it here we need enough confidence that other people are going to do it.

“At the moment, the costs are eye wateringly high and most demonstrations have been over budget. We need to see it in practical at scale and people need to put down serious money.”

But Dan Sadler, director of Northern Gas Networks H21 programme to convert the Leeds heat grid to hydrogen, said the technology is working “all over the world”.

He said switching over the north of England’s major cities to hydrogen encouraging greater production of hydrogen would deliver economies of scale, driving down the cost of CCS.

Sadler also said the replacement of iron with plastic pipes would enable the gas network to cope with a switch over to hydrogen.

He explained that the network would be able to cope with the much greater amount of hydrogen, which would be required to generate the same amount of heat, because the pipes currently operate at much lower pressures than they can cope with.

Sadler also warned that replacing gas heating with electricity instead of hydrogen would require a huge increase in storage capacity.

He said the European gas network can store the equivalent of 1500 TW hours of energy, which he said is equivalent to 11.6m of Tesla’s Australian mega battery parks.

But he said the government would need to make a decision by 2023 about switching over from natural gas to hydrogen to enable the low carbon conversion of the system from the late 2020s that is required to enable the UK to meet its climate change targets.

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