There will be no net zero without carbon capture and hydrogen
Hydrogen will be crucial if the UK is to meet its 30-year target of bringing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. In order to cut emissions, we will need to create a hydrogen economy, and for the hydrogen economy to succeed, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is essential.
We are using more and more renewable energy in our power system – 47 per cent of electricity came from renewable sources in the first three months of 2020 – but we cannot decarbonise our economies unless we also tackle carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from using fossil fuels in power and other sectors. Two of the most promising ways to do this are to decarbonise hydrogen production and to capture emissions using carbon capture and storage (CCS) – and they go hand in hand.
Because of its versatility, hydrogen will be crucial if the UK is to meet its 30-year target of bringing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. Hydrogen can do many things: store energy long-term to cover seasonal lulls in wind or solar generation; fuel heavy transport such as ships, trucks and trains; replace fossil fuels in so-called “hard-to-abate” industries such as steelmaking; and be used as a clean and flexible fuel source in power generation.
So, to cut emissions, we will need to create a hydrogen economy, and for the hydrogen economy to succeed, CCS is crucial.
CCS poised to take off
CCS takes the CO2 emissions from power stations and industrial facilities and stores them underground, and it will be central if the UK is to reduce CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050, say experts including the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the UK’s Committee on Climate Change.
“You can’t have a credible conversation about net zero without talking about CCS,” says Luke Warren, chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA). While we have spent the last couple of decades successfully decarbonising electricity by developing renewable power and phasing out coal, “what comes next will be more difficult,” says Warren.
Hydrogen production using Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
Hydrogen at scale is crucial for meeting climate targets.
To reach net zero targets, says José Miguel Bermúdez Menéndez, energy technology analyst for hydrogen and alternative fuels at the IEA, hydrogen demand needs to increase seven-fold, but that hydrogen also needs to become ‘low-carbon’. Currently, hydrogen is mostly made from natural gas and its global production releases 830 million tonnes of CO2 a year. This is known as grey hydrogen.
There are two principal ways to produce low carbon hydrogen: use renewable electricity and electrolysis to split the H from H2O (water) to produce what is known as green hydrogen; or produce it from natural gas and capture the CO2 by-product. This is known as blue hydrogen.
In the long run, as renewable energy generation capacity increases and the cost of electrolysers falls, green hydrogen will become dominant, but today blue hydrogen is cheaper, “so it makes sense to focus on blue hydrogen to build capacity and the hydrogen market,” Bermúdez Menéndez says.
Developing a UK hydrogen market
The UK hopes to produce blue hydrogen at industrial clusters around the country. The biggest is in the Humber region, where Zero Carbon Humber aims to enable industrial facilities and power plants to either fuel-switch to hydrogen or capture their CO2. All captured CO2 will be pumped into naturally occurring aquifers under the North Sea to be permanently stored.
The anchor project for the initiative will be the H2H Saltend hydrogen production plant at Saltend Chemicals Park in Hull, which each year produces 3.5m tonnes of the region’s 12.4m tonnes of industrial CO2 emissions. H2H Saltend, led by energy group Equinor, will be the largest blue hydrogen plant in the world.
Growth opportunities for the UK at Saltend Chemicals Park (Concept is illustrative only)
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