The “rush to find all-electric solutions” to cutting emissions is overlooking the “game-changing contribution” that hydrogen can make to power markets, according to a leading engineer.

Dr Claire Curtis-Thomas, chief executive of the UK’s Institution of Gas Engineers & Managers (IGEM), claimed today that the hydrogen and fuel cell market could be a £12bn ($19bn) industry by 2050.

 “Hydrogen is both a challenge and huge opportunity for the UK gas industry”, she said. “There are calls for all-electric solutions to climate change and depleted resources. But such strategies overlook the game-changing contribution that combining electrical and hydrogen could offer, and the research and business opportunities associated with that.”

She said that as advances in hydrogen production continue, for example in new catalysts for reactions powered by sunlight, the carbon footprint associated with hydrogen supply could shrink too.

Peter Hardy, IGEM’s head of technical services, added that the opportunities also extend to the conventional gas industry. “The UK’s existing national transmission system is too valuable, and the costs of all-new replacement infrastructure too high, for it to fall into disuse. Twenty-one million UK homes are now heated by gas, and physical and regulatory innovations could enable hydrogen or hydrogen/methane blends to be safely piped to and used by households and businesses.”

He added that German power company E.ON is leading the field with the construction of its first power-to-gas plant for storing excess wind farm output in hydrogen, which will be produced onsite and injected into the German national transmission system.

“Here, the potential of hydrogen really comes into its own”, said Hardy. “There is a conundrum with wind farms, large-scale solar photovoltaic and other intermittent renewables – their contribution is often wasted because electricity grids are not yet sufficiently flexible to accommodate peaks and troughs in output without significant wastage. But when hydrogen is produced onsite to store that output, changes to the weather do not matter.”

The IGEM is holding a conference looking at the potential of hydrogen at a conference in London on 18th October.