Hydrogen Gas Injection into the Natural Gas Grid Has Begun in the U.K.
by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator
In a recent blog, we asked the question “Is power-to-gas the future of the gas utility?” And in last month’s Energy Insider we discussed various countries working on developing the concept.
In England, a project called HyDeploy has begun operation of a natural gas network with a 20% hydrogen/80% natural gas blend.
Power-to-gas is the process of using excess renewable electric production to power the electrolysis process to convert water to hydrogen and oxygen:
Source: SoCalGas website
As long as the electricity used to power electrolysis is renewable, the hydrogen created has a zero-carbon fuel. The fuel can be used as pure hydrogen fuel, or it can be mixed with natural gas to proportionally reduce the carbon content of the gas stream.
With a national goal of being net-zero carbon by 2050, the U.K. must find a way of decarbonizing residential and industrial heating loads, which make about one-third of overall carbon emissions in the country. One possibility is to utilize the current natural gas network to instead deliver green hydrogen or a mix of green hydrogen and natural gas. The first step is to find out how this really works in practice, which is the purpose of HyDeploy. Key concerns requiring research include:
- Safety including dispersion characteristics in the event of a leak, flammability characteristics, and combustion characteristics in the event of ignition
- Leakage from pipes, valves, joints, and fittings in the gas system since hydrogen is a smaller molecule than natural gas
- Degradation behavior of materials in the system that come in contact with hydrogen
- The customer experience of using a blended fuel
A 20% blend was chosen because research indicates that at that blend these concerns are expected to be minimal. For example, all gas appliances in the U.K. are already certified to operate on a 23% hydrogen blend meaning it is expected customers will not notice any difference.
Electrolizer in the U.K. (Source: H21 website)
The initial HyDeploy project will be at a private gas distribution system operated by Keele University in Stoke-on-Trent, England. The site was picked because of the availability to test hydrogen on a small privately owned network. The pilot will serve 101 residential houses, eight student halls, 17 office blocks/labs, and seven recreational/service facilities. It began in fall of 2019 and will run for 10 months.
Layout for pilot project including the electrolizer that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen and the grid entry unit which blends hydrogen and natural gas
Further pilot projects will follow, including one already recruiting customers to participate in Winlaton in northern England. This project will move research forward by implementing hydrogen on a portion of a public gas network (Northern Gas Networks). This project plans to serve 670 homes and businesses, including a mix of industrial customers.
These projects are focused on demonstrating feasibility and identifying key operational or customer issues. Still unanswered is whether or not hydrogen gas, or a blend of hydrogen and natural gas, is practicable from an economic standpoint. We'll save that question for a future discussion.
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