A ground-breaking £7m pilot project to inject zero-carbon hydrogen into a gas network to heat homes and businesses is now fully operational in the UK.

The HyDeploy green energy trial is the first of its kind in Britain and is based at Keele University in England, where it is injecting volumes of up to 20 per cent of hydrogen into the university’s existing natural gas network, as well as feeding 100 homes and 30 faculty buildings.

The hydrogen is produced by an electrolyser made by energy solutions firm ITM Power and it uses an electrical current to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

Backed by Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition, the project is led by Cadent in partnership with Northern Gas Networks, the Health and Safety Executive Science Division, ITM Power, and independent energy conversion specialist Progressive Energy.

Cadent’s chief strategy officer Ed Syson said it was “impossible to overstate the importance of this trial to the UK – this is the first ever practical demonstration of hydrogen in a modern gas network in this country”.

“Hydrogen can help us tackle one of the most difficult sources of carbon emissions – heat. This trial could pave the way for a wider roll out of hydrogen blending, enabling consumers to cut carbon emissions without changing anything that they do.”

Syson added that HyDeploy “could also prove to be the launch pad for a wider hydrogen economy, fuelling industry and transport, bringing new jobs and making Britain a world-leader in this technology. Urgent action is needed on carbon emissions and HyDeploy is an important staging post on that journey in the UK.”

When burned, hydrogen creates heat without carbon dioxide. The Committee on Climate Change has determined that the use of hydrogen in the UK energy system is necessary in order to reach Net Zero.

The hydrogen compound at Keele University

Heating for domestic properties and industry accounts for half of the UK’s energy consumption and one third of its carbon emissions, with 83 per cent of homes using gas to keep warm. The 20 per cent volume blend means that customers can continue to use their gas supply as normal, without any changes being needed to gas appliances or pipework, while still cutting carbon emissions.

The HyDeploy team believe that if such a 20 per cent hydrogen blend was rolled out across Britain, it could save around six million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

Northern Gas Networks chief executive Mark Horsley said hydrogen “is a key piece of the decarbonisation jigsaw, and this milestone allows us to take a huge leap forwards in terms of its use in meeting climate change targets”.

“Customers are ready to embrace cleaner, greener solutions in their homes, and projects like HyDeploy give us the opportunity to start making a difference to emissions today. We’re very excited to be a part of it.”

Professor Mark Ormerod, deputy vice-chancellor and Provost at Keele University, said: “Sustainability and low carbon energy is a key overarching institutional priority for Keele and we are delighted to be a key partner in HyDeploy.

“HyDeploy is a pioneering landmark national demonstration project, using our campus as a genuine ‘living laboratory’ for low carbon and energy efficient technologies. HyDeploy has the potential to be hugely impactful and lead to a step change in the reduction of carbon emissions associated with heat.”  

In 2018 the the Health and Safety Executive granted the HyDeploy consortium an exemption to the current limit of 0.1 per cent hydrogen in the UK gas network. The exemption to 20 per cent for the Keele project was awarded after the consortium presented evidence to demonstrate the blend would be ‘as safe as natural gas’. A similar approach was used to allow the first bio-methane producers to inject biogas into the natural gas network.

Gas safety checks were carried out in the homes and buildings in the trial area. Laboratory tests were carried out on a range of gas appliances, as well as extensive research on the effect of hydrogen on the different materials found in the gas network and the appliances.