UK gears up for hydrogen heating

gas grid UK
UK grids, © National Grid UK

In June 2019, mere weeks before stepping down as British prime minister, Theresa May committed the United Kingdom to an ambitious new target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The amendment to the Climate Change Act made the UK the first G7 nation to enshrine net-zero emissions in law. This toughened stance has resulted in carbon dioxide reduction becoming a more pressing issue than ever.

Providing heat to domestic and commercial properties currently accounts for a third of the country’s carbon footprint. And with more than 80% of homes using natural gas for heating, hydrogen is now receiving considerable attention as an alternative energy carrier. Yet few in the gas industry have a full understanding of its properties.

Seeking to address this knowledge gap, members of the UK’s gas industry gathered at the Institution of Gas Engineers & Managers (IGEM) near Derby on October 1, 2019 for an in-depth training session on “Hydrogen and the Natural Gas Network.” The course was delivered by Mark Crowther and Paul McLaughlin of Kiwa Gastec, a leading testing and certification body. The company has been involved in multiple studies investigating the potential conversion of the UK’s domestic gas supply to hydrogen, including the H21 Leeds City Gate project (see H2-international issue Jul. 2018).

Safety was high on the agenda and the course facilitators were able to use their expertise to drill down into the detail of hydrogen’s combustion characteristics and potential hazards. The possible problem of leakage was also raised. Attendees learned that although hydrogen is 76% of the diameter of methane, any pipe that is completely tight with natural gas will also be tight with hydrogen. Reassurance was given that polyethylene (PE) piping can be repurposed for the transportation of hydrogen. Good news for the country’s 176,000 miles (284,000 kilometers) of gas mains.

The UK’s low and medium pressure gas distribution network is currently being upgraded so that by 2032 all cast iron gas mains will be replaced with PE, making the existing infrastructure substantially hydrogen ready. Transmission of hydrogen at high pressures would, however, necessitate a new, dedicated hydrogen pipeline due to the propensity for hydrogen embrittlement in high strength steels.

read more in H2-international May 2020

Nicola Bottrell Hayward
Language Launchpad translation service, Bristol, United Kingdom

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