Britain's gas network could carry hydrogen within two years

Hydrogen to be blended with natural gas to reduce UK's carbon footprint

The UK is aiming to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Getty
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Britain's gas pipelines could be carrying hydrogen fuel within two years, the network's new owner has said.

Hydrogen is currently used on a small scale in the UK, but there are plans to convert the gas network to foster its growth as a clean fuel.

A first stage would be to blend natural gas with hydrogen to cut the carbon footprint of heating and industry.

Between 2 per cent and 5 per cent of the fuel in the pipelines could be hydrogen by 2025, according to operator National Gas.

“We’re going to repurpose our system slowly over time into hydrogen, for the areas that can’t be electrified,” its chief executive Jon Butterworth told the Daily Telegraph.

“On a winter’s day, you’ve got seven times more energy going through the gas network than the electricity network. We’ve got to look at ways to decarbonise that.”

It came as a similar trial in Germany neared a new milestone of 30 per cent hydrogen in a blended gas being supplied to homes.

Customers in a test-run “hydrogen island” in Oehringen, south-western Germany, have been receiving a mix of gas and hydrogen since last autumn.

“Within the next two weeks, we will raise the share from 8 per cent to 20 per cent and two weeks further on, we will get to 30 per cent in households,” project leader Heike Gruener told Reuters.

A blending station in Oehringen, Germany, which is acting as a test site for a mixture of gas and hydrogen. Reuters

Hydrogen was regularly blended with gas until the late 20th century in what was known as “town gas”. But it was produced from coal or oil and thus had a high carbon footprint.

Although hydrogen is the most abundant element in nature, it does not occur by itself on Earth and has to be split off from compounds such as water.

Most hydrogen in Europe is still produced in carbon-intensive processes, but there are ambitions to scale up the production of environmentally-friendly “green hydrogen”.

It is seen with enthusiasm by European governments because of its low carbon emissions and potential to be incorporated into existing energy networks.

Britain has a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and Germany by 2045.

A UK energy security strategy published last year — after Russia's invasion of Ukraine shook up Europe's energy market — called for the doubling of a 2030 hydrogen production target.

National Gas became the operator of Britain's gas transmission network last month, after it was split off from electricity company National Grid.

Macquarie Asset Management and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation bought a 60 per cent stake in the 7,630km network last year.

Updated: February 14, 2023, 9:56 AM