Wayne Bridger, UK sales manager, decarbonisation and hydrogen applications at BOC UK & Ireland, discusses his involvement in mobilising industrial gas firm BOC’s largest ever hydrogen supply chain, and the drive for a ‘no regrets’ pathway to decarbonisation.

What has been your career highlight thus far? 

I have worked in the Industrial gases sector for approaching 30 years and I have been fortunate to work in roles that connected me globally with fantastic, talented people from whom I have learnt technically and culturally.

The highlight of my career was, however, the successful completion of recent hydrogen trials – BEIS Industrial Fuel Switching competition – which sought to demonstrate that hard to abate sectors could be decarbonised by switching production to hydrogen in high temperature processes such as glass, cement, lime and direct firing boiler applications.

During these trials I mobilised the largest hydrogen supply chain BOC has ever assembled, and we delivered exceptional hydrogen volumes to complete all of these trials successfully.

What is your golden rule for overcoming challenges at work generally? 

I think we all face a constant stream of work-related challenges, large and small, but we subconsciously enjoy the sense of overcoming the challenge and being in the thick of it. So much so, that we don’t do enough to prevent them from happening in the first place! We should definitely focus more on forward planning and collaboration to create fewer challenges.

To successfully manage an issue, it is important to understand the root of it, which is not always evident.

My golden rule is to take time to speak to stakeholders and define the problem from different perspectives, that way you tackle the source rather than the result.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

Many years ago, I took on my first commercial role and the owner of that business was a very successful serial entrepreneur – his advice to me was simple but effective and has stuck with me since. To succeed in any situation, you need two things; first is to work hard and be dedicated to what you are doing. Second, build knowledge and expertise – continually look to improve.

You can’t have one without the other – without knowledge, poorly directed effort is wasteful and knowledge is ineffective without the drive to exploit it.

Which piece of technology, or app, could you not function without?  

Definitely the iPhone. When I started my career, calls were made from red telephone boxes when you were travelling on business. Fast forward 30 years and my entire life revolves around iPhone functions and apps. I definitely could not function without it.

What excites you most about the next 10 years in the utilities sector – any trends, tech or specific innovations? 

The journey to net zero will undoubtedly be a key trend in the next 10 years and to achieve this, significant technology driven change needs to be implemented – particularly the focus on energy efficiency.

When I look at the challenges of decarbonisation, my first instinct is to address the opportunities to reduce energy consumption and optimise the demand using existing technologies.

I have spoken out previously in support of the ‘no regrets’ pathway to decarbonisation and I see many industrial processes that can substantially reduce energy input through better application of technology and therefore achieve the first decarbonisation step simply by reducing energy demand.

As an example of this, the role of oxygen in high temperature combustion applications is critical to achieving fuel reductions. Low carbon hydrogen will provide the future fuel for many of these processes, but the infrastructure is not in place to provide this at scale yet – so we need to maximise the effect of existing technology.

This is a no regret pathway that carries low risk. All industrial sectors should be adopting this type of technology driven energy reduction approach now as the signs are already emerging of a more volatile energy pricing market, increased cost of carbon and government legislation supporting the carrot and stick approach to encourage carbon reduction and increase the cost of noncompliance.

What do you think will be the defining factor in the UK hitting its net zero targets? 

I do not believe that a single factor will define the success of achieving net zero. The challenge we all face is that we must begin to move rapidly into the implementation phase and scale up in all directions – that cannot be achieved by organisations and businesses acting alone.

The UK industrial sector has to find ways to collaborate much more effectively if we are to bring together the multiple challenges of legislative frameworks, finance, technologies, infrastructure and manpower to deliver the biggest industrial revolution ever seen. This change needs to be delivered in the context of UK manufacturing remaining competitive in global markets – so accelerating change, facilitating first mover implementation and maintaining competitiveness will all be key issues in achieving the net zero ambition.

What is the most significant way you think the utilities sector of ten years’ time will differ from the one we see today?  

The cluster model adopted by the Government relies on a huge investment in infrastructure to pull together new or repurposed pipelines for the supply of low carbon hydrogen, and also new pipelines for the transportation of millions of tonnes per year of captured CO2.

Estimates in the Humber cluster are in the range of 17 million tonnes a year for that group alone, so the scale of infrastructure required is massive. This will need a huge mobilisation from the utilities sector to deliver, and calls on every element of the sectors capability, addressing planning challenges, applying technology, supplying sufficient manpower and financing billions of pounds of new capital investment.