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UK engineers call for hydrogen storage drive

One of the UK’s top engineering organisations is calling for a greater use of hydrogen energy storage.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMECHe) believes the British government and industry should boost investment in the technology, which in turn would “make the UK energy system greener and more efficient”.IMECHe calls for hydrogen storage drive

In a new report, the IMECHe says the technology would allow the gas grid to be used to store excess electricity, in the form of hydrogen, and support an expansion of renewable power in the UK.

“Government and industry need to step up efforts to provide funding programmes and demonstration sites to encourage the greater use of hydrogen as energy storage,” said Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Engineering at the IMECHe and lead author of the report.à‚ 

“The UK has a strong track record of being at the cutting edge of new energy developments, and this could present the country with a chance to be a world leader in power-to-gas and hydrogen technology.”

The report calls for more support for power to gas technology, which is when excess electricity on the National Grid, from either high levels of renewable generation or low demand, is used to create hydrogen through electrolysis. This can be used locally, or injected into the gas grid at a low hydrogen concentration. Apart from producing ‘green’ gas, it can also be used to balance the electricity grid.

The IMECHe says the UK gas grid has the potential to store excess electricity in the form of hydrogen for a greater amount of time than some other forms of energy storage, such as batteries.

This hydrogen can then be used in all areas of the energy system producing low emissions fuel for transport, reducing the CO2 emissions from the heating system, reused to generate electricity as well as a greener feedstock for industries such as ammonia and plastics production.

“We need to move away from our wasteful culture to a more sustainable and circular economy. Power-to-gas and hydrogen technology could and should play a major role in building this future,” said Dr Baxter.

The report makes three recommendations for how power to gas technology could be used to transform the UK energy system.

Firstly, it calls for the UK government to commit to creating an industrial forum that brings together the nuclear, renewable power and gas sectors to promote the generation and storage of hydrogen for use across the UK energy system in heat, transport, power generation and heavy industry. “Investment now in the future hydrogen economy will begin to encourage further innovation, open up markets and help clarify legislation and regulation,” said Dr Baxter.

Secondly, the report says the government must work with the gas industry to promote the use of up to 20 per cent hydrogen in the gas distribution network including change in pipes and materials by 2023. Funding programmes and demonstration sites are crucial to decarbonising gas. Government has the power to finance research, development and demonstration and support deployment through programmes such as Innovate UK, as well as bespoke programmes designed to deliver future UK infrastructure.

And thirdly the IMECHe wants the government to commission a comprehensive comparative study of the long-term sustainability of materials used to create lithium ion EV batteries versus power-to-gas/ gas systems and fuel cells, to identify appropriate technology and life cycle approach. “By understanding this more clearly, UK government can make evidence-based investment decisions that meet the requirements of sustainable development in the transport and heat sectors,” says the report.