Hydrogen’s not for heating

We need some clarity from industry leaders and government on the future role of hydrogen as an energy vector. We have a clear plan to expand the capacity for renewable generation well beyond our direct electricity demand, allowing for substantial generation of green hydrogen. This will undoubtedly be the main method we will use for storing energy. But how best to use this stored energy?

There are a number of key uses for hydrogen to displace carbon directly, in what are currently highly polluting processes. These include steel making for example. 

There are also realistic options for using hydrogen as a transport fuel – but only where battery storage is impossible and no better solution can be found. Hydrogen is hard to compress to a sensible energy denisty and this is also inefficient. It is probable that we will find an economic way to synthesise a liquid fuel for transport use. 

What seems a very foolish suggestion is that we use hydrogen in the gas mains to displace natural gas. Why? It is simple maths.

If we put hydrogen through a fuel cell and generate electricity and then use this to drive a heat pump, we will get around 2.5kWh of heat for every 1kWh of hydrogen. If we burn it in a gas boiler we will at best get 0.9kWh of heat. It is 3.6x more efficient to press ahead with transitioning domestic energy to electricity and use hydrogen as a peaking fuel for electricity.

However, we are currently getting the same old distraction tactics from the oil and gas industry to help them pursue their own agenda. 

By pushing hydrogen as a successor to natural gas, the next logical step is to boost hydrogen production by using “blue hydrogen” which is natural gas taken through steam reformation to produce hydrogen and CO2. But don’t worry about the CO2 bit – carbon capture and storage will magic this away!

Now, of course, because we need more natural gas for this strategy, it is only right that the government grant the hard pressed oil & gas industry some tax breaks and associated licences for more North Sea exploration and exploitation. 

You have to admire the skill and ingenuity that the oil & gas industry have deployed to manouvre the government to this position. 

So what we need now is some clarity from industry leaders and government to focus firmly on the valid uses for hydrogen and stop wasting time, energy and money on distractions. 

© John Moore 2023 Note: this article is one of a series the transition to net-zero Carbon and is intended as a debate initiator. 

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