Leading the hydrogen revolution

Posted on 25 Jul 2022 by The Manufacturer

Katherine Bennett CBE, Chief Executive, High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) discusses the role of hydrogen on the road to net zero.

Hydrogen is a hugely powerful energy source and has the power to revolutionise all manner of industries, from construction materials production to aviation. This is because blue and green hydrogen have the potential to produce negligible carbon emissions and are in plentiful supply, although it needs to be released from water, hydrocarbons and other organic matter before it can be used. In the global race to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, hydrogen will be a crucial part of the energy mix.

Moreover, the countries that develop their hydrogen industries the quickest will also have an improved likelihood of securing energy independence, which is clearly an issue of great concern following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As the government put it in April’s British Energy Security Strategy, hydrogen is “a low carbon super fuel of the future”. As such, Hydrogen has emerged as one of the great hopes for a world of clean energy. Both the UK government and the HVMC, as the strategic research voice for industry, are focused on making sure those expectations become reality.

The government’s vision

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has outlined a vision to unlock £9bn of investment in hydrogen by the end of the decade, supporting up to 9,000 jobs.

The UK’s first-ever Hydrogen Strategy aims to double hydrogen production to 10GW by 2030. By early next decade, this industry could achieve emissions savings equal to the carbon captured by several hundred million trees.

If we achieved those targets, the UK would be well on its way to creating a £13bn industry by the middle of the century, when hydrogen would power trains, HGV lorries and ships. Government estimate that 20-35% of all energy consumption could be hydrogen-based by then.

The centrepiece of the strategy is a contracts for difference scheme, which incentivises investment by protecting developers from volatile wholesale prices, which in turn can help protect consumers. This is a system that has worked well in establishing the offshore wind industry.

Ministers also have a £240m Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, which will back new production plants across the country. There are many other strands to the plan, including the establishment of a certification scheme to support high-grade British hydrogen exports and make sure imports meet those same exacting standards.

There is also a push to develop suitable storage infrastructure and feasibility studies considering how to mix 20% hydrogen into the existing gas supply. That last measure alone could result in a seven percent emissions reduction in natural gas, but the private and public sectors will need to work hard to make sure this is cost effective.

The strategy is all-consuming, but shows the country’s leaders are serious about hydrogen being central to the wider, 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’.

The HVMC’s role

The national Catapult Network is creating the Hydrogen Innovation Initiative which will be co-led by the HVMC’s Bristol-based National Composites Centre (NCC). This unique partnership will build new technology supply chains, accessing a diverse geographical footprint of more than 40 centres across nine catapults (incidentally, that spread will help meet the government’s ‘levelling up’ ambitions to rebalance the economy).

An obvious area of the initiative’s focus will be co-ordinated research and development, finding ways that national and local governments, regulators, industry and investors can work together. In many regards, hydrogen is only at the stages of technical and commercial maturity seen in wind and solar energy generation nearly two decades ago.

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We will need to develop infrastructure that can build the confidence necessary for private investment in hydrogen’s emerging technologies. To make sure hydrogen is cost-effective, the initiative will have to support the effective planning of its production, storage and distribution as part of the wider energy system.

The national Catapult Network, which includes us at HVMC, will provide access to expertise at world leading research and innovation facilities, as well as a virtual centre that will cut across sectors. Our aim is for the initiative to provide the backbone of the UK’s hydrogen roadmap through a vast range of projects and programmes, forging strategic linkages and establishing a focal point for the sector’s innovations.

The High Value Manufacturing Catapult will also draw upon our experience in identifying gaps in emerging industries so that we develop the technological capabilities hydrogen companies will need.

Our work

Our centres have looked carefully at the opportunities in hydrogen over the past few years. Recently announced in May 2022, the National Composites Centre, along with British SME

partners, have successfully reclaimed continuous carbon fibres from a whole pressure vessel and re-used them to manufacture a new hydrogen pressure vessel. This is the first time this process has been achieved in the UK and represents a significant milestone in the development of Britain’s hydrogen capability.

A further major piece of work was the NCC’s collaboration with Arcola Energy and manufacturer Permali. Together, we have developed a low-cost composite storage structure for hydrogen fuel cylinders. These can be retro-fitted to commercial buses, reducing the emissions of these big, gas guzzling vehicles.

Typically made from steel and aluminium, the team halved the weight of the cylinders to 100kg by building a composite alternative – Permali’s glass fibre material, delivered in flat-pack modular form. Funded by the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles through the Niche Vehicle Network, we proved these cylinders would work on buses by retro-fitting a similar vehicle, which was a refuse truck.

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The potential for this technology as part of the UK’s net zero ambitions should not be underestimated. In 2018 alone, 2.3bn miles were driven by buses across the UK. Road pollution accounts for a fifth of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The more we support large vehicles to switch to clean energy sources like hydrogen, the better chance we have of cleaning-up our polluted air.

Another initiative recently launched by our Nuclear AMRC, as part of its work with the Zero Carbon Humber Partnership, is a pilot Fit For Hydrogen (F4H2) programme. Based on the Nuclear AMRC’s established Fit For Nuclear and Fit For Offshore Renewables programmes, F4H2 will help manufacturers develop their readiness to win work in the hydrogen sector. Fit For Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (F4CCUS), a complementary programme focused on opportunities in CCUS, launched at the same time.

The pilot programmes will help up to 20 companies from across the UK prepare for opportunities with Hydrogen to Humber Saltend, the world’s largest hydrogen production project.

These are just some examples and we know there will be more complex challenges as the hydrogen industry develops at pace. Our case studies do, however, provide evidence of what can be achieved and why the hydrogen industry is so exciting to advanced manufacturers everywhere.

Hydrogen is all around us. It’s up to all of us involved in bridging the worlds of industry, academia and government to use this precious resource wisely.

Key takeaways

  • Hydrogen is a crucial part of the energy mix in the race to net zero and central to the UK government’s Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution
  • The UK Hydrogen Strategy aims to double hydrogen production to 10GW by 2030. If this is achieved an estimated 20-30% of all energy consumption could be hydrogen-based
  • The national Catapult Network, which includes HVMC and its centres, aims to provide the backbone of the UK’s hydrogen roadmap and is already heavily involved in helping the country meet its hydrogen targets
  • Activities include the Hydrogen Innovation Initiative, which brings together the strengths and capabilities of the Catapult Network and partner innovation centres to accelerate innovation, develop growth in the UK hydrogen supply chain and overcome technology and integration challenges to establish an effective UK hydrogen economy

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