Transport best place to start for hydrogen economy 

Efforts to create a hydrogen economy in the UK should initially focus on delivering “quick wins” in the transport sector, a new report has argued.

The report, produced by Arup with the support of the UK Energy Research Centre, says rolling out hydrogen as a low-carbon fuel for public transport and return-to-base fleets will help to build up the confidence, experience and supply chain necessary to tackle more complex challenges, most notably the use of hydrogen for heating in buildings.

Arup energy advisory director Mark Neller told Utility Week there are several reasons why the transport sector is the best place to start: “The volume that you need for transport is less than you need for industry and for heating.

“You’ve also got the fact that it’s pretty difficult to see what alternative solutions there are to decarbonise. If you’re looking at trains and buses and ferries doing long distances and return-to-base vehicles, you can’t get the range you need with batteries.”

“The other thing is it doesn’t require any primary legislation changes so local authorities that have committed to decarbonising can start doing that straight away,” he added.

Neller said progress could also be made by blending hydrogen into gas networks, as Keele University will begin doing shortly, and creating industrial hydrogen clusters, such as the one recently proposed near Liverpool and Manchester: “The technology is proven. The safety case is increasingly being proven for work that’s being done. And so those projects could be given the go-ahead relatively quickly”.

He said they could also be undertaken without waiting for a decision from government on the way forward for heating in buildings: “Those things are independent of each other. You can start the process of decarbonising transport using hydrogen and decarbonising industry using hydrogen and blending into the network before you have collected all the evidence for 100 per cent conversion.”

Among other things, the report also calls for more pilot and large-scale demonstration projects to develop business models, key technologies and consumer confidence, as well as greater engagement with the public on the decarbonisation of energy beyond the power sector.