A wealth of experience

Refineries are the largest producers and consumers of hydrogen in the world and UK-based refiners have been working safely with hydrogen for over 60 years. With the infrastructure, skills and expertise that has been developed, UKPIA believes the downstream industry can be a significant contributor to the emerging hydrogen economy – using the experience and scale of the sector to extend the use of low carbon hydrogen and to reduce refinery emissions simultaneously.

Hydrogen Production and Use:

The importance of hydrogen in meeting Net-Zero by 2050 is clear from the CCC’s latest report to Parliament: in it we see that hydrogen may have a role in the decarbonisation of various sectors including industry, buildings, and transport, even making mention of the involvement in hydrogen production with regard to GHG removals. The UK with a large gas grid, may be uniquely able to harness hydrogen’s potential for decarbonisation by upgrading existing infrastructure (pipelines and boilers) rather than having to create an entirely new hydrogen transport and transmission system.

As with electrification of the power grid through renewables, there is similar potential for decarbonising natural gas (NG) supplied via the National Transmission System (NTS) and gas networks if hydrogen is blended into NG; this is currently under evaluation within the HyDeploy 2 project at Keele University. Replacement of NG by hydrogen is also being considered under the Energy Networks Association “Gas Goes Green” project. 

The Gigastack and HyNet case studies explored in our Transition Transformation and Innovation Report provide early insights into what the UK refining sector can offer – implementing early hydrogen production projects using electrolysis from renewable electricity and through gas reforming with CCUS. The projects are focussed on decarbonising refinery hydrogen production, but then may develop further through the following options:

  • Decarbonisation of heat in industrial clusters with creation of localised hydrogen markets
  • Supply of hydrogen for road transport use
  • Supply of hydrogen for decarbonisation of gas networks

Hydrogen production via electrolysis also provides a new option for energy storage and electricity supply management. During periods of lower electricity demand, surplus available generation capacity could be used to produce hydrogen for storage and be released into gas networks or for road transport use when required, providing additional flexibility in the energy system. Forming the stored hydrogen into e-fuels may also make sense where losses incurred in production are offset by efficiencies gained in infrastructure and fuel quality.



Hydrogen in Transport:

As well as its role in decarbonising industry, hydrogen may also have a role in reducing transport emissions via its use in fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Hydrogen fuel cell applications could apply to many modes of modern transport including heavy vehicles such as buses and lorries, rail, marine and critically, aviation.

Hydrogen in light vehicles is technically feasible, however wide-spread uptake is unlikely to occur with cheaper electric vehicle options available to the public.

The main advantage of hydrogen-powered transport is a high energy density by mass, which compares favourably with batteries in terms of size of storage inside the vehicle. Oxidation (the chemical reaction that takes place) in a fuel cell also provides more efficient energy conversion than combustion, whilst producing only water as the emission. Therefore, hydrogen as a zero-carbon emitting transport energy source, has many strengths when payload (lorries) and distance become important for the consumer.

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