UK to Test Gas Infrastructure for Hydrogen

As many companies and governments look to utilize hydrogen as part of their energy transition targets, one potential being explored is to use existing natural gas infrastructure to be utilized to transport hydrogen. The UK has become the latest country that announced it would test a hydrogen-gas project to see if this potential can become a reality. The UK will test flowing hydrogen through existing gas infrastructure to see the possibility. If realized, it will save the country from constructing an entirely new network of plants and pipelines. Windsor-based electric services company Centrica plans to inject hydrogen into a gas-fired, grid-connected power station to integrate the energy carrier into existing infrastructure. The trial will take place over 12 months in Lincolnshire, east England.

Centica said the facility had been “designed to meet demand during peak times or when generation from renewables is low, typically operating for less than three hours a day.” It added, “Mixing hydrogen in with natural gas reduces the overall carbon intensity.”

“It’s anticipated that during the trial, getting underway in Q3 2023, no more than three percent of the gas mix could be hydrogen, increasing to 20% incrementally after the project.” the company further stated.

Hydrogen has been one of the main focuses of the International Energy Agency (IEA) as well in recent years, particularly green hydrogen produced from renewables. The agency expects hydrogen to be developed as a pivotal green energy source that can be used for a variety of applications, including heating, cooking, and powering vehicles. The IEA views hydrogen as a versatile energy carrier that can be used across a wide range of industries.

Spain has so far been the dominant force in Europe regarding major hydrogen projects. Spanish oil and gas company Cepsa announced in October that it will establish the first green hydrogen corridor between southern and northern Europe, in partnership with the Port of Rotterdam. This followed an announcement by the European Commission in September that it plans to provide more than €5 billion in funding for hydrogen projects across Europe, as part of EU’s effort of installing 40 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers across the region by 2030.

The European Commission President von der Leyen also highlighted the importance of hydrogen in her September address to the bloc, stating “hydrogen can be a game changer for Europe. We need to move our hydrogen economy from niche to scale.” She also underlined the aim for the EU to produce 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen each year from 2030.

As more green hydrogen projects are in early stages of development, countries have started exploring if they can use existing infrastructure to transport the clean fuel, rather than spending on entirely new systems. Earlier this year, FNB Gas, the association of gas transmission companies in Germany, laid out Germany’s possible future hydrogen grid, with the potential to transport renewable energy across great distances by converting existing infrastructure. FNB believes that gas pipelines can be used to provide a continuous stream of hydrogen, as well as being more cost-effective than transporting the fuel via road, rail, or ship. It estimates that a total of 5,100 km of pipelines would be required to connect generation assets, storage facilities, and end users. An estimated 3,700 kilometers could be made available by converting natural gas pipelines, at a cost of around $5.93 billion.

Another study had been made in 2021 by the EU Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER). The study proposed a groundwork for transforming existing natural gas infrastructure for use with hydrogen. It determined that the conditions for “repurposing of existing NG lines or for new hydrogen lines are likely to be met in very few, carefully selected locations across Europe,” and that hydrogen corridors must be chosen based on detailed market studies of potential industrial consumers of hydrogen.

The wave of projects, if realized, will see Europe boost its hydrogen production in the next five to ten year, but another issue is to establish markets for the fuel. Still, early projects such as the Centrica gas plant development and the Cepsa hydrogen corridor could lay the groundwork for the large-scale expansion of the hydrogen industry on a global scale.

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