A Future with Hydrogen?
With a global shift to clean energy growth, is hydrogen part of the decarbonising solution? In this article we explore what’s driving the need for change and some of the work underway to test the vision of a future with hydrogen.
Carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in 650,000 years1. Arctic sea ice is dropping by an average of 12.8 percent per decade2 and other impacts range from extreme weather events and rising sea levels, to increasing ocean acidification and global temperature rise.
In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a warning about the serious threat posed by climate change and the considerable difference in the impacts that we can expect to see with 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming. The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC highlighted that limiting global warming to 1.5ºC requires rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society, including land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities.
As Jacobs grows its sustainability work, we continue to partner with clients around the world exploring opportunities to deliver a more sustainable and equitable society and protect our natural ecosystems. No matter the challenge, we’re providing deep technical and market knowledge and digitally-enabled solutions to help tackle some of the world’s big issues. Particularly, in cities spaces where there are tough challenges around air quality, connectivity, mobility and placemaking.
The U.K.’s Climate Change Act 2008 has a 2050 target to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent of 1990 levels. With heat being the most difficult decarbonization challenge facing the U.K., meeting this target implies decarbonising nearly all heat in buildings and most industrial processes. This is driving different initiatives, fuels and technology combinations to be explored to see which have the potential to make a significant contribution.
The U.K. Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) set up its Energy Innovation Portfolio to accelerate the commercialization of innovative, clean, cost-effective and reliable energy technologies by the mid-2020s. It’s looking at innovation needs across nuclear, renewables, lower carbon and more energy efficient industry and residential and other priorities.
The potential of large-scale hydrogen conversion to significantly reduce carbon emissions
Heating and cooling U.K. homes accounts for about half of all energy consumption and a third of carbon emissions. And about 80 percent of homes use natural gas (methane) for heating and cooking3. One of the options being explored is to replace methane with hydrogen, as hydrogen releases no carbon dioxide when converted to heat. A U.K.-wide conversion to hydrogen gas could reduce heat emissions by at least 73 percent as well as supporting decarbonisation of transport and localized electrical generation4. This offers a major step towards meeting the U.K.’s carbon reduction targets. BEIS is considering several options, from how hydrogen could be produced sustainably at scale, through to what it would cost to change. With experience across hydrogen production, transmission and transportation, Jacobs is part of this cutting-edge work, involved in a series of projects that offer the potential to deliver world firsts.
BEIS commissioned Jacobs, along with partners Element Energy and Cardiff University, to complete analysis on the potential use of full hydrogen for industrial appliances, as part of the Hy4Heat program. The Hy4Heat feasibility study is exploring whether it is technically possible and safe to replace natural gas with hydrogen in residential and commercial buildings and gas appliances. The team is investigating the potential future conversion of industrial heating appliances to hydrogen, including costs, technical and commercial requirements, timeframes, safety and other considerations. This specific work package will provide an evidence base for the Hy4Heat program, inform future government decisions regarding potential energy pathways and outline the kind of hydrogen trials and appliance development work required, ahead of any potential decisions around industrial conversion to hydrogen.
The ground-breaking “H21 North of England (NoE) report” released (November 23) in the U.K., sets out how 3.7 million homes and 40,000 businesses in the north of England, currently heated by natural gas, could be converted to hydrogen and made emission-free by 2034. Northern Gas Networks (NGN) and Cadent, in partnership with Equinor, have developed a H21 North of England concept design study. Jacobs provided technical expertise relating to hydrogen pipeline modelling to this detailed plan for the decarbonisation of circa 14 percent of U.K. heat through conversion of the North of England. The full NoE report also provides a vision for rollout of the hydrogen economy across the U.K. This important study explores how an expansion of the hydrogen economy could work and informs future strategies for a range of challenges to create a new era in low carbon heat and transport for the U.K. More information is available here.
The availability of low-cost bulk hydrogen in a gas network could transform the potential for hydrogen vehicles and, via fuel cells, support a decentralised model of combined heat and power and localized power generation.
Leveraging our expertise in hydrogen, reformer technology and CO2 capture, Jacobs’ work in this area is not confined to the U.K. We are also providing a feasibility study for Equinorto evaluate the possibilities for building a hydrogen production plant, including CO2 capture, liquefaction and export facilities, at Eemshaven in the Netherlands. The hydrogen will be supplied as fuel to an existing natural gas-fired power plant that will be converted into a hydrogen-fueled power plant designed to lower the plant's carbon emissions at a large scale and to a future hydrogen market via a hydrogen pipeline and storage facilities. The liquefied CO2 will be shipped to Norway for off-shore storage.
Collaboration of expertise, innovation and vision is crucial to accelerating energy transition and developing sustainable economies that are more climate-friendly and less energy-consuming. Our Netherlands operation joined the Dutch Energy Transition Coalition in 2017 as businesses came together to support the acceleration of energy transition across the country.
Hydrogen’s role in the future of transport
With approximately 70 percent of the world population forecast to live in urban areas by 2050, fast and reliable transport connectivity, both within and between urban areas, is essential for the movement of people and goods, and ensuring geographical distribution of growth. The challenge for city leaders is to lay down the frameworks which allow this development to take place. With city congestion at an all-time high, air pollution is an increasing concern – and hydrogen offers the potential of another alternative as a low-carbon transport fuel in the future. Hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles convert compressed hydrogen into electricity to power the electric motor.
Published last year, Shell’s study5 on the future of hydrogen in the transport sector, jointly produced with the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, said that in 2050, 113 million fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) could save up to 68 million tonnes of fuel and almost 200 million tonnes of carbon emissions, making a significant contribution to reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions in the transport sector.
Exploring hydrogen-powered train technology, for example, Jacobs recently worked on a Hydrail Feasibility Study Report with Metrolinx, a Government of Ontario (GO) agency that manages and integrates regional transportation planning in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. With the support of Ernst & Young Orenda Corporate Finance Inc. and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, the Jacobs-led team determined it is technically feasible to use Hydrogen Fuel Cells (HFCs) as a power source for electrifying the GO rail network, which carries more than 70,000 passengers annually.
Taking the green hydrogen economy one step closer to be circular
The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) also just launched a new project to explore how circular economy approaches can be applied to optimise the efficiency of hydrogen production and stimulate the development of a local oxygen market in Orkney. The project aims to identify potential applications for the commercial use of oxygen and heat as by-products of the hydrogen production process, ultimately developing a circular business model for hydrogen. The work is being supported by Zero Waste Scotland and delivered by Jacobs as part of the circular economy business support service, an initiative supported by funding from both the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund through the $92 million (£73m) Resource Efficient Circular Economy Accelerator Programme.
EMEC has been producing ‘green’ hydrogen since 2017 using renewable energy from local wind and tidal resources to power an electrolyser, splitting water into its chemical components: hydrogen and oxygen. However, the cost of producing hydrogen is high as roughly one third of input energy is lost as oxygen and low-grade heat during production.
This cost is driving business innovation to increase the efficiency and circularity of the process by identifying end applications for heat and oxygen by-products. Local industries such as aquaculture, horticulture, diving, health and aviation all use oxygen as part of daily business. Integrating locally produced oxygen into the supply chain will increase island resiliency and reduce the environmental impact of businesses currently getting oxygen delivered from the U.K. mainland.
3 & 4Hy4Heat
The H21 Leeds City Gate report looks at plans to convert significant parts of the UK gas grid to hydrogen