Britain chooses 11 sites to kick-start green hydrogen production

Ministers put £2 billion into 'fuel of the future' but scrap domestic heating trial

Ports in Teesside in the north of England plan to use hydrogen produced at the new sites instead of diesel. Getty Images
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Britain has chosen 11 places to make green hydrogen in what it called its most significant step so far towards producing the “fuel of the future”.

The projects announced on Thursday, backed by £2 billion ($2.53 billion) of government funding, will produce hydrogen for use in paper mills, commercial port vehicles and distilleries, among others, replacing fossil fuels.

Ministers said the plans – in which hydrogen will be split off from water using clean energy, thereby earning the “green hydrogen” label – were key to achieving Britain’s climate change goals.

Plans to test it in domestic heating as a replacement for gas, though, have been kicked back to 2026 as a pilot project in the north-east of England was scrapped after failing to find a reliable hydrogen supply.

The new funding nonetheless “represents a monumental step forward in helping producers to deliver a fuel of the future today”, said energy minister Martin Callanan.

“This will be essential to achieving our net-zero targets, and will benefit people across the UK with the job and investment opportunities that this funding will bring,” he said.

The world’s hydrogen plans gathered pace at the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, where several major companies such as the UAE’s Masdar announced new initiatives in the sector.

The main climate deal agreed in Dubai specifically mentions hydrogen in a call for countries to “accelerate zero and low-emission technologies” as they make the transition from fossil fuels.

Green hydrogen is only produced in low quantities at present and people in the sector talk about a “chicken and egg” problem in which demand remains low as long as supply does, and vice versa.

Sopna Sury, chief operating officer for hydrogen at energy company RWE, expressed optimism that the new UK funding was a “shift from policy development to project delivery” that would give the industry more clarity.

“These early projects are vital not only in driving the production of electrolytic hydrogen but also in signalling the need to build-out the [transport and storage] infrastructure for its wider distribution,” she said.

The 11 sites in England, Scotland and Wales were chosen from 17 applicants and will be followed by a second funding round as the UK tries to get one gigawatt of capacity under construction by 2025.

In the same announcement, the government said the domestic heating trial in the town of Redcar was not going ahead because “the main source of hydrogen will not be available”.

A 53-page update on the UK’s hydrogen strategy says ministers “continue to recognise the role that hydrogen could play in home heating” but will not make firm decisions until 2026, after the next general election.

Updated: December 14, 2023, 2:18 PM