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No more noise – let’s just do hydrogen

No more noise – let’s just do hydrogen

From rock bottom to rocking

Four years ago when Progressive Energy was embarking upon the HyNet North West journey, it was challenging to get any air-time for hydrogen.  Today seems to be its time, with mainstream media spelling out its benefits.

With both the Prime Minister and Energy Minister publicly backing hydrogen (and carbon capture and storage), the industry appears to be riding the crest of a wave.

And it is not only the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who can be accused of Churchillian calls to arms; Baroness Brown, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), recently stated that the UK missed the boat on developing the technology for wind turbines and batteries, and so must grasp the opportunity presented by hydrogen.

To keep up in the race with Germany and Japan, Minister of State (Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth) The Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, recently committed to publish the UK’s first national hydrogen strategy by spring 2021. There seems to now be consensus that given our natural energy assets and resources, the UK must be an exporter, not importer of hydrogen-related technologies.

Action not more deliberation

In its 2020 progress report to Parliament, the CCC makes it crystal clear that a new hydrogen economy is required alongside electrification of the energy system to meet ‘net zero’. It also recognises that hydrogen is the most credible option for several ‘hard to reach’ sectors, such as energy intensive industry and heavy goods vehicles.

In a decarbonised 2050 world, there is a role for both ‘blue’ and ‘green’ hydrogen and so we, as an industry, need to draw a line under any squabbling and accept each has strengths. Blue hydrogen is currently the more cost-effective approach by far and can be produced easily in bulk; essential when all renewable power generation will be required to decarbonise our electricity system, rather than be converted to hydrogen. By unlocking investment in distribution and storage networks, which are essential for hydrogen generated from intermittent renewables, blue will then enable green.

So, let’s put this aside and look at delivery. Let’s move from talking to doing. As with any major infrastructure programme, there may be hiccups with hydrogen’s deployment, but these may still occur even if we deliberated for another decade. What is certain is that every tonne of CO2 going into the atmosphere today will still be there in 2050. Now it’s time for Government and industry to act quickly together and deliver.

Low cost and deliverable

HyNet is an integrated hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) project based in the North West of England. At Progressive Energy we have been working for a number of years to bring together a world-leading project to produce low carbon hydrogen, capture and store the resulting CO2 offshore and drive decarbonisation across the regional economy.

HyNet’s location has been chosen because of its close proximity to offshore CO2 storage in depleted gas fields in Liverpool Bay and to underground storage of hydrogen in salt caverns in Cheshire. The opportunity to reuse a significant amount of existing oil and gas pipelines and rigs also makes it the lowest cost ‘full chain’ hydrogen and CCUS project in the UK – and the UK’s leading hydrogen and CCUS project according to the Hydrogen APPG.

HyNet can be delivered based on policy mechanisms and business models which are already understood by the investment community – in line with the UK CCUS Advisory Group’s recommendations. To support hydrogen production and use, a Contract for Difference (CfD) akin to those already used to support low carbon power generation, is most appropriate. Similarly, use of the regulated asset base (RAB) model to fund pipelines and storage has been used for decades by Ofgem and network operators.

Unlocking net zero

Not many organisations can deliver a project at the scale of HyNet. It has therefore been critical to build a consortium of companies all with specialist skills and the ability to deliver major infrastructure. More information on the partners in respect of the hydrogen and CCUS networks can be found on the HyNet website. For the Hydrogen production plant, the key partners are Progressive Energy, Johnson Matthey, SNC-Lavalin and Essar.

At the centre of HyNet is Johnson Matthey’s state-of-the-art LCHTM* technology for the production of low carbon hydrogen, which is proven in producing hydrogen in bulk. The LCH process uses auto-thermal reformation (ATR) technology coupled with a Gas Heated Reformer (GHR) and will capture 97% of the CO2.

The first LCH units will be located at Essar’s Stanlow Refinery, where a £7.5M FEED study and associated consenting process (funded by BEIS’ Hydrogen Supply Competition) are underway and due for completion in summer 2021. Subject to the CfD (or similar) mechanism being launched, the first unit will be operational by 2025.

HyNet will unlock hydrogen use to decarbonise the whole economy:

  • Hydrogen will be supplied to energy intensive industrial sites. Progressive is currently leading ‘live’ demonstrations of hydrogen firing with both Unilever at Port Sunlight and NSG-Pilkington at St Helens, along with a FEED study for a new CHP at Stanlow Refinery. These will provide evidence for decarbonisation of similar sites across the region.
  • A blend of hydrogen (with natural gas) into the distribution network will be deployed. The proportion of hydrogen is being determined by the HyDeploy project, but will be set at a level (likely 20%), which results in zero disruption to existing forms of gas use for households and businesses. In later phases of HyNet, the existing distribution network may be fully converted to hydrogen, unlocked by the blending phase.
  • HyNet will also supply hydrogen for use in low carbon flexible power generation to balance the electricity grid and so enable greater deployment of intermittent renewable power generation;
  • Finally, HyNet unlocks the use of hydrogen as a transport fuel to decarbonise (largely heavy) vehicles, which are unsuitable for battery electrification due to the need for light-weighting, long-ranges and fast-refuelling.

By 2030, HyNet will have capacity to save 10 million tonnes of CO2 per year, which is equivalent to taking 4 million cars off the road or to heating over five million households. An element of bio-energy CCUS (BECCS) will be deployed to deliver ‘negative’ emissions as part of a net zero regional cluster proposition. To achieve this goal from the outset, Progressive has already been granted planning consent for a suitable BECCS plant in the region.

The time is now

For many years, the hydrogen economy has promised the prospect of low carbon, low cost fuel. Finally, the time to deliver has arrived, so both Government and industry must stop just talking, and keep working together to deliver affordable and material projects.


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