The UK’s bus and lorry fleets, plus many homes, could be running on low carbon hydrogen within two decades thanks to green technologies now being pioneered in three UK regions renowned until now for their carbon-intensive industries.
The projects are among the first successes of the North Sea Transition Deal, an agreement between the UK’s government and its offshore energies industries that was signed just one year ago, and which has just been subjected to a one-year assessment of progress.
The Deal opened the way for HyNet, based in north-west England and north Wales, and Zero Carbon Humber, in the northeast, to win government funding to build systems for mass production of clean-burning hydrogen from natural gas.
The Acorn Project in northeast Scotland, whose funding awaits final approval, has similar plans. All three projects are based around the concept of ‘clusters’ where hydrogen production plants are sited close to other industries that can use the fuel they produce.
All three projects will also deploy carbon capture technologies to capture and safely store the waste CO2 generated in hydrogen production. Other industries in their local clusters, such as factories and power plants will also be encouraged to capture their own emissions. The CO2 will be compressed and pumped into rock formations deep beneath the UK’s surrounding seabed.
The Transition Deal also sets targets to dramatically cut production emissions for the North Sea oil and gas the UK will continue to need by 50% by 2030, 90% by 2040 and 100% by 2050.
This week Deirdre Michie, chief executive of Offshore Energies UK, one of the architects of the Deal, said OEUK’s one-year assessment suggested the deal would generate up to £16 billion in private sector investments, reduce CO2 emissions by 60 million tonnes and generate 40,000 new jobs. The regions chosen to develop the first technology clusters will be among the biggest beneficiaries.
Deirdre Michie said: “The dreadful war and tragic events in Ukraine also underlines the fact that the UK must minimise its reliance on imported energy. The climate crisis means we must also continue cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
“These three regions are pioneering technologies that achieve both aims. If we can clean up our own natural gas by turning it into hydrogen, and permanently storing the waste CO2, then the North Sea can become a secure source of low-carbon energy from gas. That’s in addition to the huge success of offshore wind which is set to quadruple by 2030 and which is proving a huge national success.
“I want to thank and support the people and businesses for their commitment to developing these technologies. Just one year after signing the North Sea Transition Deal, a greener future is beginning to take shape for the UK.”
Hydrogen burns without producing CO2 and contains so much energy that Nasa uses it to fuel space rockets. That also makes it ideal for powering heavier road vehicles for which batteries are impractical. The UK government has said mass production of the gas is central to the nation’s entire strategy for reaching net zero. Its Hydrogen Strategy suggests hydrogen could supply 20-35% of the UK’s final energy consumption by 2050.
HyNet North West is an exciting new hydrogen and carbon capture project extending across North West England and North Wales which is predicted to create 6,000 new jobes. Under the scheme natural gas extracted from Liverpool Bay, will be turned into hydrogen at Stanlow Refinery. Then, a network of pipes will take the hydrogen to local factories and other users.
The waste CO2 will be pumped back out to sea via repurposed gas pipelines for storage in depleted gas reservoirs deep under the seabed in Liverpool Bay. By 2030 about two million tonnes of CO2, from Stanlow and from other local industries, would be permanently locked away each year.
HyNet is a hugely ambitious scheme – once established it would provide nearly 50% the hydrogen needed to meet the UK’s net zero targets. Hydrogen can also be stored which can help balance supply and demand. Hynet has earmarked salt caverns under Cheshire as storage sites.
Zero Carbon Humber
The Humber estuary on England’s northeast coast will become home to the world’s largest hydrogen production plant at px Group’s Saltend Chemicals Park, converting natural gas to hydrogen and waste CO2.
Saltend will also become the starting point for a hydrogen and CO2 pipeline network connecting industries across the region and giving them the option to either switch to hydrogen fuel or capture their CO2.
That waste CO2 will be compressed at Centrica’s Easington site, and then pumped into pipes that will carry it out into the North Sea. Then it will be pumped into bedrock a mile under the seabed for permanent storage. The scheme is backed by Equinor, an energy company which is a world leader in carbon capture and which already operates three offshore wind farms.
Drax Power station near Selby will be part of the system. By running on biofuels and capturing its own emissions it could become the world’s first carbon negative power station by 2030.
Zero Carbon Humber is predicted to protect 55,000 existing jobs in the region and create 49,000 new ones.
Acorn – Carbon Capture and Hydrogen Projects
The St Fergus gas terminal in northeast Scotland is the landing point for about a third of the gas used in the UK – meaning it has the infrastructure to pioneer both hydrogen production and CO2 capture and storage. Shell, Harbour Energy and Storegga have backed the scheme which is now a reserve project meaning final funding has not been approved.
Both the UK and Scottish governments have expressed support for Acorn which is predicted to generate or protect more than 20,000 jobs by 2030.
The region’s offshore geology is so ideal for CO2 storage that St Fergus could also take shipments of the gas from power stations and factories around the UK. Plans already drawn up would see shipments from Teesside, the Thames estuary, and south Wales.
To mark once year since the Deal was completed, Deirdre Michie visited Proserv at its facility in Aberdeen to hear about the company’s work in subsea control module augmentation and refurbishment, extending the life and the reliability of vital equipment.
David Currie, Group CEO, Proserv, said: “We are delighted to have welcomed OEUK CEO Deirdre Michie to one of our Aberdeen sites and to have had an opportunity to explain how our team is adapting and realigning to the changing landscape of the UK’s energy sector.
“An integral focus right across Proserv is on asset optimisation, improving the performance of critical infrastructure, making it more efficient, so reducing replacement and waste, and limiting emissions. We are developing a very significant business in offshore wind, yet at the same time, oil and gas continue to play a key role in the global energy mix and so we need to make that production process as clean, safe and reliable as possible.”