26 October 2023

hydrogen blending with HyDeploy

The thinking behind hydrogen blending is that it makes the most of our existing gas grid network, minimising disruption and cost to consumers, while helping Great Britain move towards its net zero ambitions.

The HyDeploy project is playing a pivotal role in building the safety case to enable hydrogen blending, for both domestic homes and industry.

Here, we speak to Charles Perez-Storey, Principal Engineer at Progressive Energy, one of the key partners involved in the HyDeploy initiative about how hydrogen blending can deliver a safe, non-disruptive and cost-effective carbon reduction solution for the UK.

Charles has an impressive list of hydrogen credentials to his name. A Principal Engineer at Progressive Energy, a leading low-carbon project development company with over 20 years’ experience in hydrogen and carbon capture, usage and storage, Charles leads the hydrogen research and market development team. He’s passionate about the progress being made with HyDeploy.

HyDeploy is all about demonstrating that hydrogen blending is a safe and credible option for lowering carbon emissions. It’s a way of providing low carbon energy without any changes to domestic appliances, buildings or heating patterns, and it allows dispersed industry to start on the decarbonisation journey early without needing significant infrastructure costs. Most industry is not located in concentrated clusters, and so blending allows the UK to maintain its industrial baseline while moving towards net zero.

“Hydrogen is lighter and less dense than natural gas, but has a higher calorific value - or energy content - per unit mass,” Charles explains.

“However, in terms of how gas behaves in your home, the dominant factor in that performance is called the Wobbe Number. This refers to the relationship between the energy content and its density. You can think of it as the energy delivery capacity of that gas.

“When you blend up to 20% hydrogen with natural gas, the Gas Safety (Management) Regulations would retain the existing Wobbe number range. So the energy carrying capacity would be no different from the spectrum that we receive today.

“Natural gas is not a fixed thing. It’s a range of gases all mixed together. The 20% hydrogen is essentially another component within that mixture - it’s just a different molecule. The big advantage, of course, is there’s no carbon, meaning the carbon emissions of using this blend is much lower.”


What is HyDeploy?

The HyDeploy programme is split into several phases, and based around a series of live hydrogen blending demonstrations. Taking place between 2019 and 2021, the Keele demonstration sought to power 100 homes and 30 faculty buildings, by injecting a blend of up to 20% hydrogen into Keele University’s existing natural gas network. A £7 million project, the project was led by Cadent Gas, in partnership with Northern Gas Networks, the Health & Safety Executive, ITM Power and Progressive Energy.

“Keele was all about evidencing some of hydrogen’s fundamental safety elements, such as its behaviour and how it interacts with materials,” says Charles. “Historically, hydrogen has been used a lot in industry at higher pressures and temperatures, but in normal networks it’s typically running at ambient conditions, and much lower pressures. We needed to demonstrate to the HSE - for these appliances and this specific network - that there wouldn’t be any safety issues, which we successfully did.”

The second phase of HyDeploy involved supplying 668 houses, a school, several small businesses and a church in Winlaton, near Gateshead, with a 20% hydrogen blend.

“Winlaton was all about broadening that perspective. Rather than saying, ‘For this subset of appliances, or this specific network’, we needed to take a more generalised approach. We needed to prove that for a representative sample of appliances within these homes, there were no safety concerns. It’s all about moving from a specific case to a more general view.

“For example, in Keele all the appliances were new, well maintained and running properly. In Winlaton, we still did surveys to make sure people’s appliances were safe, but didn’t take credit for this in the risk assessment. We had to take the view, ‘Would this be permissible if you didn’t know the condition of everyone’s appliances?’ And the Winlaton trial was successfully approved on this basis, not knowing if everyone’s appliances were running well.

“The key reason for this is because when you add a 20% hydrogen blend into natural gas, people’s appliances actually become safer in terms of how they operate. The main reason people come to harm on the natural gas network is appliance malfunction. If natural gas is not burned properly, it will produce carbon monoxide, a colourless, odourless and poisonous gas. When hydrogen is added into the mix, you reduce the risk of those poisonous emissions by about 90%. This is because the air requirement that hydrogen needs is much less than natural gas, so the risk is massively reduced.”


The voice of consumers

While ensuring hydrogen blending makes the grade from a safety perspective is absolutely critical, it’s also vital to take into consideration how consumers partaking in these trials felt about hydrogen blending when all was said and done. After all, having the public’s backing is going to be essential for embracing this new approach to fuelling our homes and industry.

How did consumers in the HyDeploy trials respond?

“Hydrogen blending is completely non-disruptive for domestic consumers,” says Charles, “and for that reason they really didn’t notice any difference. Consumers were really positive. Of course, we had to engage with people, get into their homes to check appliances were safe, and gather data around what evidence needed to be prepared. But when it came to the actual running of the projects, people didn’t have any concerns.

“One resident said, ‘Everyone I’ve spoken to has said it’s made no difference to their usage of gas - everything is the same.’ Another commented, ‘To be honest, I barely even know the project’s taking place because there’s been no disruption at all.’ The feedback from consumers has been wonderful.”

“I barely even know the project’s taking place because there’s been no disruption at all.” - A quote from a resident taking part in the HyDeploy demonstrations.


Spotlight on industry

The final phase of the HyDeploy project, which aims to complete this year, is focused on the safety elements of hydrogen blending for industrial and commercial applications.

“We’ve undertaken a range of industrial trials,” Charles explains. “A lot of products we’ve tested are direct-fired, where the combustion gases come into contact with the product.” This included trials on a 55MW glass furnace at a manufacturer in the north-west, steam boiler trials at another major industrial user, and ceramics and food testing with laboratory organisations. “We tested manufacturing products that have a safety function, like safety glass windows and structural bricks. All of these trials have shown there hasn’t really been any effect from running on a 20% hydrogen blend.”

In summary as Charles puts it, “the biscuits will still break like you’d expect, the bread is still as spongy as you’d expect, and the bricks are still as sturdy as you’d expect”.

“We’ve also done a lot of desk-based studies, and are currently looking at technology like gas turbines, gas engines and compressors. What we’re finding is that there are some slight changes that might be needed, but they are really minimal. For example, if changing a turbine to run on 100% hydrogen then it would need to be replaced, which is to be expected. But when it comes to the 20% blend, this equipment can still work because the blend is just at the lower end of the Wobbe range of gas it could already receive. Again, there are some nuances in terms of how they might need to be designed, such as some safety features for gas detection, but these are well within the known scope and capabilities of OEMs.”


Moving forward

Taking all these positive findings into consideration, why aren’t we blending hydrogen into our existing natural gas network then?

“Currently, blending is not allowed in the Gas Safety (Management) Regulations. What the HyDeploy project is now focused on is taking the overall evidence and submitting it to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the Health & Safety Executive. They will need to review it and, if approved, they will go through a process to update the regulations. Once that happens, it will legally be possible to put a 20% hydrogen blended gas into the network, provided networks have updated their safety cases and the market arrangements are in place.”

Charles is convinced that hydrogen blending is the most logical way forward to start decarbonising gas.

“Recently, there’s been a lot of talk around the Ultra Low Emission Zones in London, and the impact on consumers,” Charles considers. “It’s thrown up some difficult questions in terms of what people are prepared to accept.

“If you’re in government and considering how to meet net zero targets, you really want no disruption or costs to the consumer. We’re in a cost of living squeeze, there’s interest rate concerns, and so on - it’s a difficult period. Policies need to be less disruptive and not cause problems. You also want there to be a low cost to the economy. We need to reach the end goal in the most cost-effective way possible, which doesn’t harm public finances. Finally, you want to make material carbon savings.

“Hydrogen blending delivers on all three points. It’s not disruptive to consumers; domestic consumers don’t need to do anything, and there’s only minor changes that need to be made for industry. As a result, those end user costs are lower, so there’s a lower cost to the economy. Furthermore, because blending creates a market for hydrogen, it reduces project volume risks, lowers the cost of capital financing, and therefore minimises the amount of subsidy support needed from business models, which would otherwise come from taxpayers or consumers. By enabling blending, you’re putting flexibility into this system, and risk is reduced. And hydrogen is, of course, carbon-free.”

Did you know?

The Government’s consultation on hydrogen blending into Great Britain’s gas distribution networks is closing soon. You have until 27 October to have your say.

Respond now

So, what’s the end goal of HyDeploy?

“A change to the Gas Safety (Management) Regulations to permit a 20% blend,” says Charles. “In order for the Health & Safety Executive to approve this, and for the regulation to go through Parliament, they would have to review our safety evidence and the change will only happen if that evidence meets their requirements.

“The quicker we get regulations and market arrangements in place, the quicker projects can start to use blending. Fundamentally, the approach to blending needs to be to remove barriers as quickly as possible, enable the market, and then let the benefits of that flow through. The quicker this happens, the sooner we’ll be able to realise these benefits.”

A final question Xoserve always asks guests is, ‘If they had a decarbonisation magic wand, what would you like to happen?’ Charles' answer is perhaps no surprise.

“Blending to be sanctioned in December 2023, and by 2025 let’s have all the barriers removed and get ahead of the game again,” he says. “The UK has fallen behind Europe and America in terms of decarbonisation, and blending would be a massive step forward for the UK in the global race and our net zero ambitions.”

A big thank you to Charles for joining us. You can listen to Charles’ podcast episode below.

Hydeploy podcast

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