The UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (the “UK HFCA”) recently released its Position Paper 'The Case for Blue Hydrogen' (the “Paper”). The Paper forms part of wider investigations conducted by the UK HFCA into the role of hydrogen in meeting the UK’s 2050 Net Zero targets. This article summarises the key ‘take away’ points arising from the Paper.
The Paper follows a previous publication by the UK HFCA which looked specifically at the potential for Green Hydrogen. The topic of the previous paper was discussed at length in a webinar organised by UK HFCA and hosted by our very own Ross Fairley. For those interested, a recording of that previous webinar can be found here.
The Case for Blue Hydrogen
With the Government’s ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ identifying hydrogen as a key fuel in facilitating the UK’s Net Zero targets, there is little question that hydrogen fuel will play an important role in the UK’s decarbonisation transition. However, it is important to note the distinction between the different production methods used in creating hydrogen fuel:
- Grey Hydrogen – This involves converting natural gas into hydrogen, with the resulting CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere. It is estimated that this resulting CO2 accounts for approximately 3% of the global industrial sector CO2 emissions. The UK Government, understandably, does not recognise this method as suitable for meeting its decarbonisation targets.
- Blue Hydrogen – This still involves the process of converting natural gas into hydrogen, however, the resulting CO2 is then captured and stored at geological sites. In this way there is limited CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.
- Green Hydrogen – This is the generation of hydrogen from purely renewable resources. As only renewable methods are used, no CO2 is generated in the course of power generation.
The Paper recognises that adoption of Blue Hydrogen and Green Hydrogen are not mutually exclusive, but instead supports the Government’s twin-track approach in utilising both to reach Net Zero targets. Nevertheless, the UK HFCA has identified Blue Hydrogen as a transitory hydrogen fuel in the near-term, which will be the fastest and most commercially viable way of generating the public support hydrogen needs to gain widespread adoption in the UK. This should ultimately assist in driving down costs in hydrogen production across the board, including in the context of the emerging green hydrogen market.
The Paper identifies that initial Blue Hydrogen projects are centred around industrial centres, where multiple sectors can utilise hydrogen fuel. By focusing Blue Hydrogen in these industrial clusters, the carbon capture, utilisation and storage (“CCUS”) infrastructure benefits from efficiencies driven by economies of scale. Importantly, such infrastructure must be built with future capabilities in mind, namely: (i) cross-compatibility with future Green Hydrogen input and distribution; and (ii) connectivity to the wider national power grid and future hydrogen pathways.
Whilst numerous hydrogen clusters are appearing in the UK, the Paper provides an interesting analysis of four of the more developed UK sites: (i) Acorn Hydrogen (North Sea); (ii) HyNet (North West England); (iii) H2H Saltend (Humber region); and (iv) Teesside. Teesside would be the largest proposed site in the UK, producing 1GW of Blue Hydrogen by 2030 (equivalent to 20% of the Government’s current target).
In considering the future hydrogen infrastructure needed to make Blue / Green Hydrogen viable, the Paper identifies that much of the already existing UK oil & gas infrastructure could be adapted to store and distribute hydrogen. In fact, thanks to the Iron Gas Main Replacement Programme, much of the 28,000km pipeline in the UK has already been converted to the polyethylene material needed for hydrogen distribution, with the remainder of the piping scheduled to be replaced by mid-2030. This existing network already connects to over 85% of the dwellings in the UK.
The benefit of being able to retrofit our existing oil & gas pipeline system to be compatible with this new hydrogen fuel is twofold: (i) our existing oil & gas infrastructure has the potential to store significantly more hydrogen than alternative battery systems can store electricity; and (ii) this eradicates (or significantly delays) the need to decommission existing infrastructure and building new infrastructure. The Paper is quick to point out the significant financial and environmental benefits of such approach.
Most importantly, the Paper identifies the next steps which would need to be adopted in order for hydrogen to become a viable fuel source in the near future.
Blue Hydrogen Standards
Any Blue Hydrogen production should be governed by stringent standards ensuring CO2 capture is maximised. In this way, the technologies with the lowest carbon footprint would be utilised, thereby minimising natural gas consumption per unit of hydrogen produced.
Policy & Regulation
As with many of the technologies relating to decarbonisation, the perception is that the lack of clear governmental guidance and proposed regulatory regime is deterring potential stakeholders from the sector. The UK government needs to be clear in respect of its intention relating to hydrogen fuel, along with any governmental support it is willing to provide during the infancy stages of the sector. Until such reassurance and clarity is provided, hydrogen technology may lack the widespread acceptance and support needed for stakeholders to commit to largescale hydrogen projects.
Certification of Blue Hydrogen
The Paper rightly identifies that consumers will be crucial in the uptake in hydrogen fuel technology. As such, it suggests a system of verification will be needed which provides confirmation that the hydrogen consumed has indeed been produced through low carbon methods. This would be particularly important if Green Hydrogen is to become more prevalent and distributed alongside Blue Hydrogen. To this end, the Paper supports an approach which would see the UK government adopt a similar approach to the EU’s CertifHy scheme.
Without initial governmental intervention and financial incentives, this emergent technology is unlikely to reach a point where it is economically feasible in its own right on a commercial scale. This is the case for many emergent technologies, such as the early stages of offshore wind energy. Recognising this, the UK HFCA suggests a system similar to the Contracts for Difference regime used in offshore wind industry, which guarantees a set profit level and thereby stimulates supply-side growth to create a robust supply chain.
The Paper is a reminder that, whilst the Government has set off on the right foot in respect of its Net Zero targets, practical details are required before its vision can be realised. Particularly poignant is the suggestion that the Government needs to provide more clarity and reassurance in its future adoption of hydrogen and CCUS technology. This is a criticism we have seen across many of our clients’ sectors. In fact, we recently wrote about the government’s Roadmap to Decarbonising North Sea Offshore Wind Operations, which likewise identified that a key challenge facing offshore windfarm and vessel operators was the government’s lack of strategy and intention.
The timing of the Paper is apt, as the Government is set to release its Hydrogen Strategy later this month. This will be the government’s opportunity to provide substantial and material details which we hope will catalyse the Blue (and Green) Hydrogen revolution. Look out for our commentary on the Hydrogen Strategy shortly after its publication.
If you found this article interesting, you may also like some of our other articles relating to hydrogen fuel:
- “Offshore Wind – Exploring the advent of Green Hydrogen Power”
- “UK green hydrogen network: the future looks (H2) Green”
- “Renewable energy developers should be thinking about Hydrogen now”
- “DIT Investment and Cooperation Opportunities for UK Hydrogen”
This article was written by Ross Howells