If I say energy storage, your mind probably pictures battery technology. The next generation of cars, you’re likely to think of electric vehicles. Low-carbon heating, renewable power… But I wonder if hydrogen crossed your mind at all?

 

Certainly, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IoME) is hoping it’s crossing the government’s mind, after a recent report calling for more funding and support to ensure hydrogen forms part of the UK’s plans to decarbonise power, transport and heat.

 

According to the IoME: “Operators can convert electrical energy into stored chemical energy in hydrogen by using electricity for electrolysis, which splits water into oxygen and hydrogen.

 

“The hydrogen could then be reused to generate electricity when needed, injected into the heating system or used as low-emission fuel for hydrogen fuel-cell cars.”

 

Hydrogen trial at UK’s largest university

Indeed, in a UK first, a trial at Keele University is planning to inject up to 20% zero-carbon hydrogen into the onsite private natural gas network that supplies its 350 campus buildings.

 

The aim is to gather practical evidence that a hydrogen-blended gas can be integrated safely into existing networks without disrupting gas services to customers.

 

Potential for 20% emissions reduction

A 20% hydrogen/80% natural gas blend is believed to be optimal, as existing boilers and heat equipment are unlikely to require any modification to utilise it.

 

Currently, 80% of the UK’s homes are heated by natural gas – and heat accounts for a third of the UK’s overall emissions.

 

So if 20% could be supplied by hydrogen, then the thinking is that significant reductions in emissions could be achieved.

 

However, creating hydrogen can be an electricity-intensive process. So harnessing surplus renewable power at night, for example, could reduce the environmental impact, while also acting as means of effective energy storage.

 

New funding for hydrogen-fuelled transport

Along with the growth of electric vehicles (EVs), will we be seeing more hydrogen-fuelled cars on our roads anytime soon?

 

Certainly, the government has recently announced more funding to support hydrogen ‘fuel cell electric vehicle’ (FCEV) development.

 

This includes £8.8m to expand a network of hydrogen refueling stations and purchase new hydrogen-powered vehicles, including police cars and taxis in the London area.

 

FCEVs convert hydrogen gas into electricity to power the engine and only produce heat and water when driven. They can also travel up to 700km on a single tank and can be refuelled in a few minutes.

 

So in terms of how they fit with EVs, it’s not a question of either or, but likely both, with EVs prioritised for local travel and FCEVs for longer routes (eg buses and lorries).

 

Hydrogen cars a reality

Already, Shell has opened two hydrogen refueling facilities in Cobham, Surrey and Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on the M40, with more planned this year.

 

And when it comes to FCEVs, the Toyota Mirai (from £65k) and Hyundai ix35 (from £53k) are already available to buy, albeit at a rather large cost.

 

If you’d like to understand more about hydrogen – and when might be the best time for your business to consider the full range of new low-carbon technologies – talk to our experts at Energy HQ (via nBS@npower.com). Or contact your Client Lead (for existing nBS customers).