Hydrogen – making the case through Life Cycle Analysis
11th May 2020 | Commercial Energy
The UK’s pledge to reach Net Zero Carbon before 2050 has been primarily planned around decarbonising the electricity supply, leading on to the electrification of heat and transport, eg through domestic heat pumps and electric cars, trucks and trains. A big challenge for the latter part of this approach is the fact that the additional energy demands for heating and transport are together more than four times the current electricity supply.
To deliver such an increase of electricity, whilst bringing emission to Net Zero Carbon, will require bringing more renewable energy from increasingly remote sites: a proportionately large expansion in transmission lines: a massive roll-out of new electrical technology on streets and in homes: and large capacity energy storage to buffer between renewable supply and demand cycles.
The large investment needed will not only be in terms of money but also in the amount of the Government’s carbon emissions budget and other mineral resources (some rare) that will be used up just to build all these new facilities. It is important that the ecological suitability of what we build is part of the decisions we make about our future energy systems.
It is in this light that many stakeholders, including the Institution of Chemical Engineers’ Clean Energy Special Interest Group, have identified hydrogen’s potential as an alternative energy vector that can be competitive and complementary to electricity. They are suggesting that utilising hydrogen as a fuel for heating, transport and industry and as a means of energy storage and long distance transmission may provide ways to ease the transition to Net Zero Carbon.
One particular feature of hydrogen that may make it attractive is its potential to reuse existing fossil fuel infrastructure that would otherwise be abandoned were we to go all electric. Repurposing rather than scrapping these long-established systems will help hydrogen options be less disruptive and resource hungry, and potentially more cost effective to install. The optimum energy system arrangement could be one where hydrogen and electricity vectors compete and interchange via commercially-viable electrolysers and fuel cells, each playing its most effective role.
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