Industry and government should build on UK strengths to accelerate the hydrogen economy, urges UK hydrogen champion

Article by Amanda Jasi

INDUSTRY should work with government to create a wider hydrogen supply chain strategy that builds on UK strengths to help accelerate the growth of the nation’s hydrogen economy, says the UK’s appointed sector champion Jane Toogood.

Toogood, who works for Johnson Matthey, made the recommendations in a report published in March following extensive engagement with more than 100 stakeholders. The new report follows the publication last year of the government’s hydrogen sector development action plan (SDAP) which sets out actions that government, industry, and the research and innovation community can take to seize supply chain opportunities presented by the low-carbon hydrogen economy.

Toogood says the SDAP is an “excellent” starting point but adds it is vital that supply chain strengths and opportunities are identified within a wider strategic plan and that proposals are put in place to enable their development. For example, she notes that while precious metals are a constraint for electrolyser production, the UK has world-leading experience and capability in precious metal recycling.

Toogood makes a total of four recommendations to industry, which include collaborating with government in dedicated working groups to help resolve problems and gaps in resource. She says, for example, that the government should dedicate expert resource to work with the UK’s Health and Safety Executive to help speed up safety assessments needed for blending and heating.  

She also recommends that industry and trade associations work together to evaluate the scale of hydrogen’s economic opportunity to ensure that it isn’t underestimated. She adds that government would benefit from additional data which could help give a better idea of the job creation potential. Her final advice is that a group is needed to align industry, government, and academia to ensure that near- and long-term skills requirements are met within the supply chain strategy.

Leveraging policy

While Toogood notes that industry has a role to play in key areas, she says government has the most “levers to stimulate a hydrogen economy”. She makes five recommendations to government to benefit the hydrogen economy.

Following strong feedback from stakeholders, she recommends the government provide greater clarity to industry on the policies it plans to implement to achieve its longer-term hydrogen goals.

She says that government needs to kickstart investment by overcoming barriers to deliver the first CCUS-enabled and electrolytic hydrogen projects at scale. Toogood says this will boost investor confidence, build momentum, and increase UK hydrogen capabilities. She suggests setting targets for each electrolytic funding round to drive scaleup, bolster capabilities and deliver world-scale electrolyser projects.

She also says government should drive rapid development of the hydrogen economy by stimulating demand in blending, heating, and transport. To help achieve this she says government should support hydrogen blending in the gas network this year.  

She also recommends providing a clear vision for investors on how and when hydrogen will scaleup beyond the first round of projects in the initial CCUS industrial clusters, and create a plan for integrated energy infrastructure to deliver an optimal future energy system. This plan should incorporate gas, electricity, hydrogen, and CO2, enabling the balancing of intermittent renewable power generation.

Government response

Grant Shapps, secretary of state for the department of energy security and net zero, welcomed the report, “which has come at a critical time in the development of the UK hydrogen economy”. He added that he would carefully consider its recommendations.

In a response letter, he said to Toogood: “I am keen to work with you to identify next steps and, as such, would welcome your continued engagement with ministers and officials over the coming months, including on those areas where government and industry have differing view.

“I also welcome and would like to highlight the recommendations for industry within the report. The private sector will be critical in developing the UK hydrogen economy, and government and industry will need to work closely together to realise its full potential. In this report you have offered a positive vision for how this can be done.”

The UK’s first hydrogen champion

Johnson Matthey

Jane Toogood was appointed the UK’s first hydrogen champion in July 2022, as the UK implemented measures to accelerate investment in hydrogen projects. She is also chief executive of catalyst technologies at Johnson Matthey and co-chair of the UK’s Hydrogen Advisory Council, which was set up by the government to inform the development of hydrogen as a strategic decarbonised energy carrier for the UK.

As hydrogen champion, Toogood is an independent advisor responsible for engaging with industry, stakeholders, and investors to identify barriers and enablers to investment in electrolytic hydrogen projects and Track 1 projects enabled by CCUS. She also makes recommendations to the secretary of state on what government and industry could do to accelerate investment in hydrogen economy.

Her report comes ahead of the second version of the UK’s low-carbon hydrogen standard which sets a threshold amount of the greenhouse gas emissions allowed in the production process for hydrogen to be considered low carbon. It is expected this month.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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