Net Zero by 2050

Hydrogen: Testing the heating fuel of the FutureGrid

5th August 2020 – Journey to net zero

Hydrogen has the potential to be a lower-carbon, cleaner alternative to methane, but we still need to do further research and testing.

To reach net zero by 2050, we need to find new ways to heat the UK’s homes and businesses. Hydrogen could be central to this and a new test facility will look at how hydrogen might work within the existing gas network.

As a nation, we’re currently heavily reliant on methane gas in our homes and businesses with, for example, 85% of households using gas for their heating. The problem is that heating, cooking and industrial processes account for 37% of UK CO2 emissions. So, if we’re to lower those emissions and reach the national target of net zero by 2050, we need an alternative to natural gas.

A promising alternative heat source

Hydrogen has the potential to be a lower-carbon, cleaner alternative to methane, but we still need to do further research and testing to understand how it could work within the current energy system.

As Antony Green, National Grid’s  Project Director for Hydrogen, says: “If we truly want to reach a net zero decarbonised future, we need to replace methane with green alternatives like hydrogen. Sectors such as heat are difficult to decarbonise and the importance of the gas networks to the UK’s current energy supply means trial projects are crucial if we’re to deliver low-carbon energy reliably and safely to all consumers.”

Testing hydrogen in a ‘real’ system

With this in mind, National Grid has partnered with Northern Gas Networks (NGN) and Fluxys Belgium to submit a bid to Ofgem to build a new hydrogen test facility in Cumbria: FutureGrid.

If funding is awarded, the aim is to start construction in 2021, with testing beginning in 2022. The first of its kind, the test centre will help us to gain an understanding of how hydrogen gas could be used in the future to heat homes and deliver green energy to industry.

Collaborating in Cumbria

The £10 million project will be delivered by DNV GL, with support provided by the Health and Safety Executive Science Division and academic partnerships with Durham University and the University of Edinburgh, and involves building the hydrogen test facility at DNV GL’s site at Spadeadam, Cumbria.

The FutureGrid facility will be built from existing equipment and infrastructure that’s ‘offline’ – not connected to the actual gas network – but mimics a real-life system. As the testing will happen in a controlled environment, there’s no risk to the safety and reliability of the existing gas network.

Blends of hydrogen up to 100% will be tested at the high pressures found in the existing network, to assess how the gas behaves and interacts with different parts of the system, such as pipes, valves and gas meters.

Thierry Bottequin, Engineering Manager from Fluxys Belgium, says: “This is an important step in investigating the conversion possibilities of our infrastructure for the transmission of hydrogen and natural gas blends, and pure hydrogen. The project perfectly complements our own research to document the reliability, safety and integrity of the existing gas infrastructure when used to transport hydrogen.”

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