Energy From Hydrogen
The establishment of a strong hydrogen economy nationally and locally is a real opportunity that is rapidly becoming attainable. This is a vision for the role that hydrogen could play particularly in South Yorkshire to help meet carbon reduction targets and contribute to the health and economic prosperity of the region.
Accelerating the Carbon Transition in South Yorkshire
South Yorkshire has been renowned for its industries since the Industrial Revolution, two centuries ago. The region was once world-famous for its railways, and its production of steel and coal. Building on this heritage, the area is now at the forefront of a new Clean Energy Revolution.
In Sheffield, ITM Power has opened the world’s largest electrolyser factory, as well as the north of England’s first hydrogen refilling station. These advances mark a first step towards a new, zero-carbon transition to clean and versatile energies.
Building on this foundation, South Yorkshire is fertile ground for a new green hydrogen economy. The area is geographically central in the UK. It has ideal connectivity by rail and road, and a long, proud industrial heritage. Sheffield boasts two world-class universities – The University of Sheffield, and Sheffield Hallam University – and has a long track record of collaboration between academia and industry.
The Sheffield City Region (SCR) is aiming to set a leading example for the country – and the world – by going carbon-neutral by 2030. This target date is twenty years earlier than the UK-wide target of 2050. As the rest of the country follows suit, demand is expected to rise for new forms of clean energy, particularly green hydrogen. There is a perfect opportunity here for capitalising on hydrogen innovations.
The Importance of Hydrogen
Hydrogen is a fuel that has the potential to replace fossil fuels in sectors where direct electrification is difficult. This includes uses such as transport, manufacturing industries, and heating, which are all currently dependent on fuels such as petrol or natural gas. With new developments in technology, hydrogen is expected to be the ideal replacement fuel.
Traditionally, hydrogen is produced through a process called steam methane reforming, using natural gas. However, today we can produce ‘green hydrogen’, entirely carbon-free. Green hydrogen is produced through electrolysis of water molecules, separating the hydrogen from the oxygen in H2O. This process makes use of renewable energy, from solar power, wind power, or biomass.
A fast transition to new fuels is needed to solve the climate crisis. It is hard to see a future without hydrogen as a prominent fuel. As such, we must prepare for a new hydrogen economy. By developing this, we can not only decarbonise and help our planet, but also stimulate our economy, and develop new skills and jobs, both locally and nationally.
Producing Hydrogen in South Yorkshire
With hydrogen production gaining momentum across the globe, South Yorkshire can get ahead of the curve by starting to decarbonise now. By the 2030s, green hydrogen will be in major demand. With the right planning environment, this economy can be expanded significantly.
South Yorkshire has around 121MW of onshore wind capacity already in place. Tween Bridge Windfarm, just north-east of Doncaster, has a 44 MW capacity and, additionally, a large area already in place for future expansion. Excess renewable energy here can be used for green hydrogen production via electrolysis.
Options are being considered for hydrogen usage in our gas networks. Natural gas can be displaced by hydrogen via blending into the network, or in some cases, it could be totally converted to 100% hydrogen. With the gas network, South Yorkshire could then receive green hydrogen produced on the coast from offshore wind.
Hydrogen also offers a unique solution for energy storage. Seasonal heat demand will require large amounts of energy that could be met via large-scale hydrogen storage. South Yorkshire has an existing storage facility underground at Hatfield Moor, which currently stores 116 million m³ of methane. Potentially, this location (as well as others) could be used to store hydrogen.
Hydrogen and Transport in South Yorkshire
South Yorkshire is a transport hub, with a high density of road connections and railway connections. There is a large transport hub centred on Doncaster Sheffield Airport. The region is positioned centrally in the UK, and it is en-route along freight lines travelling south from ports in the Humber region, including Hull and Goole.
In the decarbonisation of our society, vehicles will primarily be battery-electric powered, as there is existing infrastructure for these. However, there is still an important role for hydrogen in transport. Fuel cell electric vehicles are powered by energy-dense hydrogen, making an ideal choice for vehicle fleets with long-range requirements.
Hydrogen can also play an important role in fuelling vehicles where there is limited time or space for electrical recharging, as refuelling is a quicker process with hydrogen fuel cells. Buses and trains are considered ideal uses for hydrogen, with the first passenger train services already underway in Germany.
South Yorkshire has the opportunity to introduce hydrogen-powered bus fleets and train services, where these prove difficult to fully electrify. Hydrogen refuelling centres can be built at both motorway service areas and around the Doncaster truck parks, servicing heavy-duty vehicles.
Hydrogen for South Yorkshire Industries
Though South Yorkshire’s industries have decreased since their heyday, they still remain a significant part of the economy. Around 1.7 million tonnes of steel are produced in the region annually. The processes used to require a significant amount of natural gas for reheating steel stock. Hydrogen could be used to help decarbonise this process.
Similarly, South Yorkshire’s glass processing industry also relies on high-grade heat, a process that will also require decarbonisation. By either blending or 100% conversation, hydrogen represents a way in which these industries can stay in business, while we continue our obligation to protect the environment.
The excess heat produced by these industries can be used in-turn to produce more hydrogen, in the gas reformation process. Sheffield’s district heating network recycles heat from burning waste.
Hydrogen Development at Sheffield’s Universities
Both of Sheffield’s universities are supported by the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. With cooperation between industry and academia, the South Yorkshire region can become a hub for developing new technologies.
With two world-class educational institutions in the area, there is a supply of university graduates with knowledge of hydrogen who can contribute to its development.
With industry working together with the universities and South Yorkshire’s local colleges, they can provide training opportunities and apprenticeships based around hydrogen and its applications. This could give a much-needed boost to local employment, skills, and livelihoods.
- Jack Starr