UK’s landmark trial to heat buildings with hydrogen is fully operational

Article by Adam Duckett

Keele University
A blend of hydrogen and natural gas is being used to heat campus buildings at Keele University

THE UK’s first project to inject hydrogen into the gas grid is underway at Keele University.

The HyDeploy project announced earlier today that its trial to inject hydrogen into Keele’s private grid is now fully operational. The hydrogen is produced using an electrolyser provided by ITM Power. The hydrogen, which only produces water when burned, is being injected as a 20% blend with natural gas to demonstrate that it can be used to heat domestic and university buildings on campus without changing gas-burning appliances or pipework, while cutting emissions.

The partners in the £7m (US$9.2m) project, which include Cadent, Northern Gas Networks, Progressive Energy and the HSE, say if a 20% hydrogen blend was used across the country it could save around 6m t/y of CO2 – equivalent to taking 2.5m cars off the road. Heating for homes and industry accounts for half of the UK’s energy consumption and one third of its carbon emissions.

Mark Horsley, CEO of Northern Gas Networks, said hydrogen is a key piece of the decarbonisation jigsaw, echoing the UK’s Committee on Climate Change which notified government last year that hydrogen will be key to the country achieving its net zero emissions target by 2050.

“Customers are ready to embrace cleaner, greener solutions in their homes, and projects like HyDeploy give us the opportunity to start making a difference to emissions today,” Horsley said.

The project has passed a series of safety trials to get to this point. Working with the HSE, HyDeploy has carried out gas safety checks in homes and buildings; conducted laboratory tests on gas appliances; and tested the effect of hydrogen on materials in appliances and the gas network. In 2018, the HSE granted HyDeploy an exemption to the current limit that allows only a 0.1% hydrogen blend in the gas network.

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of this trial to the UK – this is the first ever practical demonstration of hydrogen in a modern gas network in this country,” said Ed Syson, Chief Safety and Strategy Officer for Cadent.

“HyDeploy could also prove to be the launchpad for a wider hydrogen economy, fuelling industry and transport, bringing new jobs and making Britain a world-leader in this technology.”

The project has been granted a ten-month trial by HSE, and following this the consortium wants to trial supplying a hydrogen blend to more than 650 homes in the northeast of England.

Other hydrogen projects

HyDeploy is one of a series of hydrogen-based projects under development in the UK. Others include the HyNet project which aims to deliver a hydrogen blend to over 2m consumers across the UK's North West, and decarbonise local industry. The consortium, which includes Progressive Energy and SNC Lavalin, aims to demonstrate a high-efficiency low-carbon hydrogen production process developed by Johnson Matthey. This couples a gas-heated reformer with an autothermal reformer and will be located at Essar’s Stanlow refinery.

Progressive Energy director David Parkin told The Chemical Engineer in October that the consortium has completed pre-FEED engineering activities on a 3 TWh/y design that captures more than 95% of CO2 and has “a well-advanced plant design, including flow schemes, plot plans, utility connections and costings”.

The consortium is awaiting the result of a government funding application to move the project to the FEED stage and if successful will have a ‘shovel-ready’ project my mid-2021. In parallel the consortium is also developing a scaled-up 15 TWh/y scheme.  

To read more about hydrogen projects being developed in the UK and around the world, along with the engineering challenges faced, see our dedicated series on the hydrogen economy in partnership with IChemE’s Clean Energy Special Interest Group.  

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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