Green Hydrogen Energy – What’s the Delay?

05 April 2017

Our Bioeconomy Development Officer Gesa Reiss blogs on the potential of ‘Green’ Hydrogen as a source of low carbon energy that our area is well placed to take advantage of.

Green Hydrogen

” ‘GREEN’ Hydrogen is one of my latest pet topics much, to the detriment of my colleagues’ mental health. Aptly, it all started with an email from Yorkshire Ambulance Services who, together with another 150 fleet managers in Yorkshire, are looking to decarbonise their fleet. It seems that the public sector’s 5,900 fleet vehicles are clocking 728,852,755 miles per year. Most of them are currently fuelled by fossil fuels, including diesel.

The Low Carbon Yorkshire Fleet Infrastructure group – of which the LEP is a member, was set up as a first step towards achieving this ambitious task. At the first meeting, a Sheffield-based company introduced me to their integrated hydrogen energy systems. In short, these systems are used to capture and store large quantities of excess renewable energy through the conversion of electrical current into hydrogen. This ‘green’ hydrogen has two main applications: transport fuel or as an energy carrier in electricity and gas supply.

The Basics and the Benefits

Hydrogen as a transport fuel is used by ‘hydrogen-powered fuel-cell’ vehicles, which are electric vehicles powered by a replenishable fuel cell. Electricity is generated from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. Other than water vapour there are no emissions from hydrogen powered cars. And no, these cars are not explosives on four wheels as technology has moved on. Toyota’s Mirai is a beautiful, non-explosive example.

Public transport is currently leading the way with hydrogen fuel, although the number of fuel cell electric buses is still very low: Aberdeen tops the European figures with 10 buses which soon will be superseded by London with 20 buses on order. The encouraging thing is that fuel cell buses can offer a credible replacement option for diesel vehicles in terms of performance (18 hours non-stop), refuelling time and fuel cost (€5-6/kg hydrogen price at the nozzle; average consumption 9kg/100km). Also the initial higher Total Cost of Ownership to a fleet manager has been reduced significantly so this cost should no longer be a main barrier.

In terms of hydrogen fuelling infrastructure the technology exists and the Shell hydrogen refuelling station on the M25 clearly demonstrates that it can be done. By the way, Shell is planning to open a network of 400 hydrogen sites in Germany by 2023. So there is momentum in terms of technology implementation which should bring down cost further.

Power-to-Gas energy storage is the other use for ‘green’ hydrogen. Here the hydrogen can be blended with natural gas (around 20% of the volume of gas in the network) hence providing an economic and low carbon solution for storing large amounts of energy for long periods of time. This will help with balancing supply and demand, but perhaps also could have an unwelcome impact on constraint payments paid by the National Grid to wind farms to reduce output in periods of high wind but low demand.

In Austria, a consortium of businesses and research institutions are in the process of constructing one of the world’s largest electrolysis plants for producing green hydrogen. This hydrogen will be available for industrial use, e.g. their steel industry, and for balancing the power reserve market. Closer to home the National Grid-led ‘HyDeploy’ consortium accessed £6.8 million from Ofgem to establish a framework for hydrogen gas-grid injection and to open up a new UK Power-to-Gas market.

How Does Green Hydrogen fit into Yorkshire?

So what is all the excitement about you may ask yourself? What is the relevance to Yorkshire and why potentially risk the mental health of my colleagues? I guess to appreciate my enthusiasm fully you will need to be slightly passionate about the low carbon agenda, technology and reducing air pollution.

Basically, I am so energised because I believe we have all the ‘ingredients’ in Yorkshire to be a key player in the development of the low carbon, low polluting ‘green’ hydrogen market in the UK. Need convincing? Here some of the specifics:

The East Riding of Yorkshire is one of the most prominent on-shore wind generating counties in England, and the Humber Estuary is positioning itself to host the largest off-shore wind farm in the world by 2023. Though perhaps we will need to have a closer look at Grid capacity.

A wind-powered hydrogen mini grid is located on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sheffield and open to the tenants of the Park. Two hydrogen fuelling stations are in the planning system again for Sheffield and additional sites have been identified along the M1 corridor, including Leeds. Of course we would need further stations in our more rural areas – perhaps business parks would be suitable locations. After all there could be 5,900 hydrogen-fuelled fleet vehicles on our roads soon.

With Siemens, Dong and ITM Power Ltd. in our patch we certainly can boast about our regional expertise in building ‘green’ hydrogen energy systems. Perhaps we will need to develop certain skills of our end users, e.g. aftersales support, including skills needed to service hydrogen fuelled vehicles and to maintain associated infrastructure and supply chains.

Finally, there is a strong argument in support of ‘green’ hydrogen which is that Yorkshire has among some of the highest end-user carbon emissions in the UK. Considering the government’s stringent carbon reduction targets Yorkshire certainly could be the knight in shining armour (or for gender equality should this also read ‘Lady’?) – slaying carbon emissions and saving government targets. That’s an excellent reputation to be had!

So what’s the delay?”


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