Supporting the UK Hydrogen Economy

Written on the 29th June, 2018

‘Supporting the Hydrogen Economy’ was the title of a Supplement in the New Statesman (edition 16 – 19 June) which looked at the way in which “fuel cell technologies can shape the UK’s future.” The Supplement was sponsored by Johnson Matthey.  It was a welcome promotion of hydrogen and fuel cell technology in a weekly and well respected political magazine.

There were six contributors  beginning with Matthew Harwood, Johnson Matthey’s Chief Strategy Officer.  He argues that the development of hydrogen and fuel cell technology was both a necessity and an opportunity in the energy transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.  He said that “energy is a partner to electricity in a zero-carbon energy system.”    He believes that the United Kingdom has the technology leadership in fuel cell and electrolyser technologies.  The need for co-operation with Europe and East Asia is also stressed.  Harwood also outlines the advantages of injecting hydrogen into the gas grid.

The development of Hydrogen Hubs feature strongly in the collection of articles.  Claire Perry, Minister of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy visited the Swindon Hydrogen Hub where Johnson Matthey are based.   In her article, she said that there had been “an upswing of interest in hydrogen” as some of the “technological barriers are diminishing.”  She concluded that “hydrogen has the potential to provide clean, reliable and flexible energy for families and businesses  while creating a new innovative sector in the UK.”

Perry went on to outline UK Government investment in the low carbon technology including:

  • £20 million  fund to look at ways in which the high costs to produce large volumes of green hydrogen can be reduced.
  • £23 million to grow the hydrogen for transport sector which will support the purchase of fuel cell cars and the construction of refuelling stations.
  • Investment of £2.5 in low carbon innovation until 2021.  A start date for this expenditure was not given.

Alan Whitehead, Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change said that the UK’s energy mix should ally the role of hydrogen with the production of green gases such as biomethane from anaerobic  digestion of waste and organic residues.   He looks at the  injection of hydrogen into the gas grid and mentions current pilot projects but concludes that there are still problems with the high price of hydrogen and its calorific value.

Whitehead thinks “it is unlikely that we will ever have a ‘full hydrogen economy’ but that does not mean that we should throw hydrogen out entirely.'” This comment shows that those us who want to move to a zero carbon economy with hydrogen playing a major role, still have a lot of convincing to do.

Matthew Tipper, Vice President of New Fuels  Shell,  seems to contradict Whitehead when he says that “a range of technologies  will be needed to reduce carbon emissions.”  He emphasises the speed of refuelling a hydrogen vehicle and its long range.   He concludes “hydrogen has exciting potential ” but this will only be realised by strong and sustained co-operation between businesses and governments.

The last two articles looked at Hydrogen Hubs with articles from Kevin Fothergill, Chair of the Hydrogen Hub and Zeynap Kurban, Programme Manager of H2FC SUPERGEN.  A Hydrogen Hub is an industry led community of stakeholders across the hydrogen and fuel cell supply chain, Government, local authorities, businesses and current and potential users.  The first Hydrogen Hub was established in Swindon in 2016 and has developed a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and a fleet of fuel cell cars.   A second Hydrogen Hub will be established in Oxfordshire where there is strong interest in sustainable transport and energy generation.  Projects being considered include a fuel cell bus fleet, delivery vehicles, refuse collection trucks and combined heat and power projects. The City of Oxford is looking to introduce the first zero emission zone.  There are also plans for hydrogen Hubs across the UK.

The Hydrogen Hub also operates nationally and seeks to drive investment in hydrogen and fuel cell innovation by shaping energy and transportation policy at the UK level.    Zeynap Kurban looks at H2FC SUPERGEN hydrogen hub is funded by the Research Council’s UK Energy Programme. It is not limited to research and brings together prominent academics and key industry experts to develop hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.  Kurban argues that “despite industry led market introduction of fuel cell technologies, their costs are currently too high for consumers” and national/international  programmes are needed to support research development and deployment. She cites Japan’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Roadmap, the US DOE Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program and the EU’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell Joint Undertaking (FCH-JU) as examples of this activity.

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