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New report backs hydrogen energy storage potential

Institution of Mechanical Engineers sees significant potential for curbing carbon emissions from heat if industry and government can support new infrastructure to store hydrogen

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is calling on UK industry and the government to step up investment in technology that makes use of hydrogen as a means to store energy to help curb carbon emissions from the national grid.

New findings from the organisation have argued that financial support for new pipes and materials capable of allowing excess electricity to be stored in the gas grid as hydrogen could be used to power a variety of functions such as heating and electricity in line with environmental ambitions.

The ‘Energy from gas: taking a whole system approach’ report has concluded that tackling energy storage within the gas grid would help government realise the ambitions of longer-term that include the Clean Growth Strategy. The plan was published last year as a means to broadly outline how to drastically reduce carbon emissions in the UK up to 2050.

Storage of excess electricity is identified by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers as a key barrier to improve renewable energy capacity. One such example is for power generated from wind during periods of low demand on the national grid.

The institution’s engineering head Dr Jenifer Baxter, who also served as the report’s lead author, said the country had a chance to be a world leader in power-to-gas and hydrogen technology solutions, but improved support was needed.

She added, “Government and industry need to step up efforts to provide funding programmes and demonstration sites to encourage the greater use of hydrogen as energy storage.”

The findings have set out three recommendations on how power to gas technology can transform energy technology. These include the formation of an industrial forum made up of representatives from the nuclear, renewable and gas power sectors to consider and promote generation and storage of hydrogen for energy to power heating, transport and heavy industry.

The other recommendations include collaboration between the gas industry and government to make use of up to 20 per cent hydrogen within the current UK distribution network supported through new pipes and materials by 2023.

The report added, “Funding programmes and demonstration sites are crucial to decarbonising gas.”

“Government has the power to finance research, development and demonstration and support deployment through programmes such as Innovate UK, as well as bespoke programmes designed to deliver future UK infrastructure.”

The final recommendation in the report calls for a government commissioned study that can compare the long-term sustainability of materials used to create lithium ion EV batteries with power to gas systems and fuel cells.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has argued that the findings could help ensure more evidence-based decisions on future funding for transport and heating systems.

Heating challenge

An estimated 82 per cent of UK homes use gas for heating with significant focus on looking at how electricity can be used to curb the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report.

The findings added, “It is clear that reducing the impact of heat is the next big fix to be made.”

Potential ways to realise these ambitions in the report include reducing the amount of gas needed for heating through energy efficient initiatives such as insulation, or changing the types of gas used.

This could include expanding reliance for biomethane, hydrogen and synthetic methane in the national grid as a means to reduce emissions from extracting, transporting and using natural gas.

The findings also consider efforts to change heat sources with a push towards electricity. However, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ report argued that this option would be “less desirable”, owing to required infrastructure changes for homes and businesses, the amount of gas needed to generate this electricity and overloading electricity along with a push for expanding use of electric vehicles.

The report concluded, “Although with hybrid systems, some of these difficulties can be overcome.”

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