HyDeploy: Keele Uni zero carbon hydrogen trial

hydrogen in gas supply

Keele University has become a 'living laboratory' where zero-carbon hydrogen is being used in the gas supply for the first time through the HyDeploy trial. If successful, the project could allow the UK to start lowering carbon emissions from heat by the early 2020s. Selectra has the details below.

What is HyDeploy?

For the first time in the UK, homes and buildings are being heated by a network using zero-carbon hydrogen mixed with natural gas at Keele University in Staffordshire.

Heating homes, businesses and factories accounts for almost half of the UK’s energy use and one third of carbon emissions.

The infrastructure keeping us warm needs a dramatic overhaul if the country is to meet its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and help lessen the severity of the climate emergency.

With 83% of households using gas for heat, any progress in this area will have a powerful impact.

Keele’s real-world test, which is providing heat for 100 homes and 30 faculty buildings, could put the UK at the forefront of an emerging “hydrogen economy”.

Called HyDeploy, the £7m project involves injecting hydrogen into the university’s existing natural gas network. At 20% by volume, the hydrogen blend is the joint-highest in Europe. French energy giant Engie is conducting a similar trial in France.

Although the UK limits the amount of hydrogen allowed in the network to 0.1%, the consortium behind HyDeploy provided the Health and Safety Executive with enough evidence that its hydrogen blend would be “as safe as natural gas” to convince the HSE to grant it an exemption in 2018.

Bio-methane was first introduced into the nation’s natural gas network in much the same way.

Why was Keele University chosen for the pilot?

The Staffordshire site was selected as a test bed because the campus population is similar in size to a small town and as the university runs its own private gas supply which can be isolated from the main network.

gas and electric energy

The gas systems in the homes and buildings involved in the trial were checked to make sure they could take part safely and the effect of hydrogen on the equipment and materials throughout the network was extensively researched and tested.

The HyDeploy consortium is working with the university’s SEND project which is, wait for it, “Europe’s first ‘at scale’ multi-energy-vector Smart Energy Network Demonstrator”.

Quite a mouthful. More straightforwardly, SEND is a collaboration between businesses, academics and graduates to research, develop and test new energy-efficient technologies in a real-world environment.

Keele declared a "climate emergency" in May 2019 and set itself the task of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

The university’s deputy vice chancellor and provost Professor Mark Ormerod said low carbon energy was “a key overarching institutional priority” for Keele.

“HyDeploy is a pioneering landmark national demonstration project, using our campus as a genuine 'living laboratory' for low carbon and energy-efficient technologies,” he said.

“HyDeploy has the potential to be hugely impactful and lead to a step change in the reduction of carbon emissions associated with heat.”
Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost, Keele University Professor Mark Ormerod

The pilot, led by Cadent the UK’s biggest gas distributor with over 80,000 miles of pipes supplying 11 million customers, has received backing form Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition. It is being run in partnership with Northern Gas Networks, the HSE Science Division, ITM-Power, and the clean energy company Progressive Energy.

Why is hydrogen better than natural gas?

Gas is the most effective way to store and supply vast amounts of heat. If the 24GW of heat that Cadent provides just for London peak time in Winter was supplied as electricity, it would need seven Hinckley Point C nuclear stations to meet the demand.

The flexibility of gas is also a huge advantage as the supply can be quickly stepped up to cope with surges in demand.

However, while natural gas is better than coal, it’s still a potent source of carbon emissions. If the UK also continues to increase imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), much of it from fracking fields in the US, the gas contribution to the climate emergency will continue to be significant. This is where hydrogen comes in.

When burnt, hydrogen gives off nothing but heat and water- no CO2, no methane - making it a zero-carbon fuel. The UK’S Committee on Climate Change recommends the mass-adoption of hydrogen to reach our carbon reduction targets by 2050.

HyDeploy marks the first time zero-carbon hydrogen has been used to heat UK homes, but hydrogen has previously played a major part of the nation’s fuel mix.

Before the North Sea gas fields were discovered in the 1960s, many people heated their homes using “town gas”. Made from coal, up to 60% of the town gas used by consumers was hydrogen.

Instead of using coal, the hydrogen in HyDeploy’s system is produced from water through electrolysis. An electrolyser splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using electric current.

The energy to power the electrolyser can come from any other renewable source, including solar, wind power or geothermal. This is why, unlike town gas, the hydrogen in the Keele pilot can be called zero-carbon.

Another key benefit of using a zero-carbon hydrogen blend is that householders can lower their emissions contribution but should notice no difference to their supply and they don’t need to replace their appliances or change how they use them.

How important is the HyDeploy pilot project?

With just 20% hydrogen blended into the gas supply nationwide around six million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions could be eliminated annually. The result would be as effective as getting rid of 2.5 million petrol and diesel cars.

Cadent’s chief safety and strategy officer, Ed Syson, said it was “impossible to overstate the importance of this trial to the UK.”

“This trial could pave the way for a wider roll out of hydrogen blending,” he said.

“HyDeploy could also prove to be the launchpad for a wider hydrogen economy, fuelling industry and transport, bringing new jobs and making Britain a world-leader in this technology.”
Cadent Chief Safety and Strategy Officer Ed Syson

The experiment on Keele’s campus will run for 10 months. Two more trials are planned to follow on public gas networks, one in the North East and another in the North West.

The backers of HyDeploy hope the success of these projects will convince the government to allow widespread integration of zero-carbon hydrogen across the UK.

The promise of zero-carbon hydrogen is exciting and will be a big step on the road to net-zero carbon by 2050. That said, you don’t have to wait for government approval to start your own journey to net-zero.

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