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Hydrogen Industry Leaders – Building a Hydrogen Economy, 5th July 2023, Radisson Hotel, London.

By July 7, 2023 No Comments

On Wednesday 5th July 23 Hydrogen Industry Leaders from a variety of sectors gathered at the Radisson Hotel, London.

Hosted by Hydrogen Industry Leaders (HIL) the event was an opportunity to highlight the role hydrogen has in decarbonising systems such as transport, industrial and manufacturing systems, and home energy.

The event sponsored by SGN and SSE was a showcase for some of the incredible work being undertaken in the UK and in the investment being made into hydrogen research and development.

The Dolphin N2 Hydrogen ready Recuperated Spilt Cycle Engine demonstrator dominated the exhibition hall. An industry leader in the development of hydrogen as a viable option to decarbonise the heavy-duty sector and beyond, Dolphin N2 were perfectly placed to showcase their technology amongst other hydrogen leaders.

Throughout the day the Dolphin N2 engine gained a great deal of interest and valuable industry connections were made during the event. Many of the attendees were curious about the transition from diesel engine to hydrogen and were impressed by the extensive body of work surrounding the development of the recuperated split cycle hydrogen engine.

The seminar sessions were split into three. The first session focussed on Building a Hydrogen Economy, the second Meeting Industrial Hydrogen Demand and the third, The Challenges of Domestic Hydrogen Implementation.

The first session lead by Helen Leadbetter – Senior Innovation Principle from the Civil Aviation Authority – highlighted the body of work already being undertaken by the CAA to assess how hydrogen can play a part in the decarbonisation of the aviation industry. She noted that one of the inherent challenges with using hydrogen in an aviation setting is safety.

Gatwick airport have recently begun to introduce a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses and have installed a hydrogen refuelling station on site. Helen Leadbetter explored why refuelling an entire aircraft with hydrogen as opposed to a bus posed additional logistical challenges. If an aircraft were to be refuelled with hydrogen, a 60-metre safety perimeter would need to be established making it impossible to refuel near buildings and or with passengers on or near the aircraft.

One of the great challenges for the aviation industry is understanding the limited data available surrounding hydrogen. The established data for aviation fuel is already in place and has been being developed over decades. With the hydrogen economy still in its infancy there simply is not enough information and or data to support an immediate uptake into aviation.

Helen Leadbetter further noted that the CAA are looking at how other sectors have already incorporated hydrogen into their systems and are taking leads from other hydrogen industry leaders. Furthermore, the CAA are also researching a whole host of alternatives to support the decarbonisation of the aviation industry with support from UKRI.

The second speaker in the first session was Marcus Hunt – Business Development Director, SGN. Marcus Hunt explored how SGN under new leadership see hydrogen as part of a new and developing energy mix. However, he was very open about how some sectors are fixated on one system or another for decarbonisation and reaching net-zero “There are binary conversations about how the future is electric or gas. We need all of the tools in the box for decarbonisation”.

With the UK energy split being one third gas, one third oil and one third ‘other tech’ the UK currently uses 700TW hours of gas each year. SGN have already completed a great body of work investigating the ways in which hydrogen can support the decarbonisation of the gas networks. Their Pathfinder H2 neighbourhood project, research and development into a 40KM pipeline to transport hydrogen and further investigation into how hydrogen can be transported to where it is needed, are part of the SGN focus on incorporating hydrogen into their decarbonisation plans. One other area SGN are focussing their hydrogen research is in gas/hydrogen blending. It may only be a 5%-20% blend of hydrogen to gas, but as Marcus Hunt said, it all certainly helps.

However, one area Marcus Hunt did focus on was investment and Government support. His concerns are well founded in so much that, if investment is not encouraged in the UK investors will quite rightly go elsewhere. The lack of investment, guidance and or policy in support of a Hydrogen Economy from Government was a theme which ran throughout the day.

Catherine Raw – Managing Director, SSE Thermal spoke about how SSE are world leaders in renewable energy hosting the largest offshore wind farm in the world. The need for renewable energy in an ever more electric reliant world, means there is greater demand. To meet the ever-growing demand for green hydrogen, renewables are needed to be increased above and beyond the current requirements. With offshore wind and solar supplied by SSE currently capable of producing 16GW of power, SSE are seeking to be able to supply 50GW of offshore wind energy by 2035 with the development of the world’s second largest wind farm.

Catherine Raw highlighted how the current transition of energy requirements and the need to reach net-zero has been developing over the past 100 years. Transitions away from coal and oil have been replaced by gas and electric. We are now in another transition whereby renewable energy, including hydrogen, are now part of the ‘toolbox’ towards net-zero.

The Humber is well known as a central energy hub of the UK and boasts multiple power stations. SSE are planning on building multiple storage caverns for hydrogen, with one of their gas caverns having already been adapted for this purpose and a 35MW electrolyser having already been installed.

The UK Government state that hydrogen and carbon capture are the answer to a flexible approach to the decarbonisation of the energy sector and beyond. However, as Catherine Raw mentioned, this has not yet been proven, tested and or established if it economically feasible.

The first panel discussion of the day – Pathway to Net Zero – had some focus on hydrogens role in the decarbonisation of transport.

Chris Ashley – Head of Policy, Road Haulage Association – acknowledged that hydrogen has a role to play in the decarbonisation of the heavy-duty sector, but that the information currently available does not go far enough to show how hydrogen could benefit the Haulage Association members.

Chris Ashley explored how BEV in an urban context has now been proven, but for hydrogen to be proven for long distance there would need to be more data made available and a guaranteed refuelling infrastructure in place. When asked why he felt Government were not pushing hydrogen in the heavy-duty sector, he felt that it was down to “cost” and “scalability”. Despite the inherent safety concerns about hydrogen Chris Ashley explored how the Road Haulage Association are currently working with the British Safety Institute to establish guidelines about hydrogen safety.

His concerns about hydrogen heavy-duty performance were explored alongside the economic impact of current hydrogen heavy-duty trucks being at least five times the costs of a standard diesel engine.  He felt that once the data is made available from the innovative trials being undertaken in the UK and beyond, then a business case can be built to support transition.

Despite Chris Ashley’s understandable hesitations, he did acknowledge that hydrogen does have a place in the decarbonisation of the heavy-duty sector, but that there needs to be a lot more proven data available to enable the heavy-duty sector to make informed decisions about their fleets going forward.

Thomas Evans – EMEA Origination Lead, GHD brought the focus to the technology curve highlighting how BEVs have taken approximately eight years to be accepted. He also recognised that Japan are currently world leaders in hydrogen development and refuelling. Thomas Evans, like so many of the speakers and attendees of the day believes that hydrogen technology does need to be recognised and supported by the UK Government.

Dr Andrew Hagan – Chief development Officer, Element 2 recognised that hydrogen has certainly got a place in the decarbonisation of transport. However, as he mentioned, hydrogen needs to be available from the right source, used in the right application, in the right place and used by the right technology. He recognised that haulage cannot rely on BEV highlighting that hydrogen refuelling for example is on a par with traditional diesel refuelling times, as opposed to the downtime required to re-charge a BEV.

Dr Hagan also explored how BEV investment some ten years ago was considerable as the grid was already available and was, as he said, “convenient”. However, electric does not suit all sectors and he felt that the UK Government should not be backing “one horse” (electric) and should be open to investment and input into a wide range of technologies.

One of the repetitive take-aways from the HIL sessions was about scalability and lack of input at Government level. Despite the comments about the hydrogen buses and refuse trucks already being successfully run in Glasgow, Liverpool and other cities taking up the technology, the options for scalability are currently being driven in the private sector and at local Government level.

Despite the UK Government publishing their Hydrogen Strategy and hydrogen featuring as part of the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, there seems to be a lack of guidance and policy from central Government. The attendees at HIL collectively felt that this may have something to do with 2024 being an election year and that not knowing who the next Government would be slows down policy production.

However, Andrew Hagan did refocus the role hydrogen can take and not only said that the DFT (Department of Transport) should be taking their lead from independent trials but that ultimately collaboration is key.

The notion of a collaborative approach was another key take-away from the day. There are multiple hydrogen projects underway across the UK. From heavy-duty trucks to energy production, industrial applications and in the domestic energy/heating sector the level of innovation in the UK is incredible. However, one of the themes from the conference was that all these projects need some form of coordination to help gather a collective body of information and support the development of the hydrogen economy.

As part of the session – Meeting Industrial Hydrogen Demand – Dr Zeynup Kurban – Techincal Director, Future Energy, GHD highlighted the need to decarbonise the steel industry.

The global steel industry is accountable for 7% of the worlds emissions. With targets to decarbonise the sector by 30% by 2030, the latest report from the Climate Change Committee again highlights a lack of guidance from Government “UK government have no clear policy to deliver decarbonisation of steel” and their own 2023 report highlight a “A lack of urgency. While the policy framework has continued to develop over the past year, this is not happening at the required pace for future targets.” (1)

Despite the UK only producing 7 million tonnes of steel per year, it still creates 2.6% of the global steel emissions. With 1 tonne of steel producing 1.8 tonnes of CO2, it is a vast undertaking to reduce emissions in the timeframes set.

However, one area Dr Kurban did highlight was again around funding. The EU have recognised that it will take approximately €180B to decarbonise their steel plants and associated logistics, with the UK lagging behind with some £200M investment in decarbonising UK steel.

Although hydrogen certainly plays a part in the decarbonisation of steel, it would currently take 0.5 million tonnes of hydrogen to support decarbonising the UK steel industry.

Robert Lugg – Partner, Bevan Brittan – showcased the role Local Authorities have in developing a hydrogen economy. He recognised that until recently hydrogen had merely been a footnote in decarbonisation polies at Local Authority level.

However, it is at Local Authority level where hydrogen projects are really taking off and lots more investment is currently being allocated. There is now widespread acceptance of hydrogen buses with fleets being taken up in Scotland, Liverpool, London, Birmingham, Brighton and their incorporation into zero-emissions fleet across the UK continues to grow.

Robert Lugg explained the current state of play regarding the developing hydrogen economy as “We do have the chapters of the book, the skeleton of the system, but we don’t yet have the backing” He recognised that there is a hydrogen economy framework ready to build on, but again investment and supporting policy is needed to drive the hydrogen economy forward.

Robert Lugg echoed a point made several times throughout the day and that being there needs to be a more collaborative approach adopted throughout the UK, joining the dots between the innovators, and gaining the relevant backing of the UK Government.

Some of the key takeaways from the conference were echoed by several speakers and other attendees, namely:

  • The Hydrogen Economy is still in its infancy and will, just like the BEV technology curve, take time and investment to grow.
  • It was recognised that the UK needs every solution at its disposal to decarbonise systems across all sectors. There is not only one solution to decarbonisation, but it will also take multiple approaches to get there and reach net-zero.
  • The data and research available on hydrogen is still developing and is not a comprehensive body of research.
  • The UK is lagging behind the EU and the rest of the world in its hydrogen investment.
  • The safety aspect of using hydrogen as an alternative fuel was echoed throughout the day. Furthermore, the storage and transportation infrastructure required to establish a fully functional hydrogen economy was also questioned.
  • Collaboration is key. This idea was highlighted several times and formed an underpinning of the conference.
  • The most spoken about challenge for the drive to net-zero was recognised as a lack of policy, investment, and input from Government. Despite the strategies having been written, the lack of policy and guidance available for not only a hydrogen economy, but the entire vision of how we achieve net-zero in real life practical terms, is not available from our current UK Government. This, several speakers highlighted, means that the groundwork is being completed by private sector industry and investors and Local Authorities, without the backing of central Government. This point was laboured on by the speakers and panels members.

The HIL conference ‘Building the Hydrogen Economy’ certainly highlighted and showcased some of the incredible work being undertaken by the private sector and Local Authorities across a wide variety of industry sectors. The key takeaways are a clear indicator that there is not only a huge body of work yet to be undertaken, but that clear guidance is required from central Government to allow the UK to be contenders in the global hydrogen economy.

Written by Katy Mason for and on behalf of Dolphin N2.