The future of electricity in the UK isn’t certain though it is very likely that with electric vehicles we will see a huge increase in demand for electricity. That’s where hydrogen is set to play a key role. Though hydrogen power in the UK is far from mainstream and has a long way to go. Domestic heating and transport poses concern for the future, that is why hydrogen is being sought after as a potential solution.
Hydrogen power in the UK and the rest of the world
Hydrogen has had a history as town gas in the UK and has been used for over 50 years as fuel, most prominently by NASA to power their spacecrafts. These fuel cells create electricity as the hydrogen meets a chemical catalyst. When they meet, a stream of hydrogen electrons is released producing electricity. Other than that, hydrogen power currently is not really used anywhere prominently enough to talk about an existing hydrogen power infrastructure.
In China, hydrogen is being invested in very heavily. They want to have 1 million fuel cells for vehicles by 2030! This is without a doubt the most ambitious plan to have hydrogen powered vehicles in the world. This is part of the Chinese governments plan to encourage the development of cleaner vehicles.
Hydrogen in the transport industry
As previously discussed, hydrogen cells can power vehicles. Using an electricity generator both vehicles and machinery can use hydrogen to gain power. Storing Hydrogen can be much more efficient than storing current fuels. It weighs roughly one tenth of equivalent battery storage. Hydrogen also works better in low temperatures. This could help make the fuel much more efficient for travelling over long distances. This could be an excellent solution for the problems lorries, shipping and trains face with decarbonisation!
Hydrogen used in heating
Hydrogen can be as efficient in cold weather as natural gas is. Making it ideal for the UK! When hydrogen is burned for heat it produces only water vapour and excess heat. Compare this to natural gas, the clear benefit is that hydrogen does not produce any harmful emissions like CO2; one of the main contributors to climate change.
Interestingly, town gas used in the UK before 1970 was roughly 50% hydrogen! So it was been proven as a viable solution!
It’s inevitable that when talking about Hydrogen as a fuel source that the issue of safety will be called into question. There have been some serious accidents caused by hydrogen. The Hindenburg is the most widely known disaster when 36 people were tragically killed while the airship tried to dock in New Jersey. The less well-known accident occurred in 1930. British airship R101 exploded on it’s way to India, costing the lives of 48 people. Hydrogen airships were abandoned after the Hindenburg, leading to a wide spread opinion that hydrogen is dangerous.
Currently, manufacturers of hydrogen tech have worked tirelessly to improve its reputation. Heavy investment in storage tanks and countless safety experiments have resulted in the resurgence of hydrogen solutions. Hydrogen is significantly more volatile than petrol and needs to be kept under high pressure to be properly utilised as fuel. So long as this is strictly enforced and handled properly, hydrogen will be able to be produced, stored and dispensed safely!
So, sounds great but why are we still using natural gas?
Hydrogen sounds great doesn’t it? It does have potential to be a great solution to our natural gas infrastructure, but like all energy transitions it will require a great deal of investment. The CCC have suggested that the UK will need a capacity production similar to our current natural gas capacity. Our current gas infrastructure could also be used for hydrogen gas, with again, significant investment.
Let’s talk numbers! How much would it cost to invest in Hydrogen?
- £17bn upgrading the domestic pipe work and boilers
- £5bn spent on storage facilities
- £4bn toward upgrades in the gas network
- £3bn manufacturing hydrogen production facilities
Like I said, significant investment! And this isn’t even considering the serious investment needed for the production of hydrogen from natural gas. Carbon capture will need to be implemented to deal with waste products.
What do you think? Should we invest in hydrogen?
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