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Thursday, August 26, 2021 

UK-based engineering consultancy Ricardo says it is supporting organisations around the world with the adoption and application of hydrogen as a critical fuel to enable the realisation of a low carbon future.

The UK Government has recently published its hydrogen strategy, which has been summarised by Ricardo’s director of strategic growth and development Colin McNaught.

Mc Naught said: "Hydrogen has had champions over the years who have pointed out its many benefits including flexibility, energy density, and suitability for storage.  This has sometimes led to hydrogen being captioned as the 'Fuel of the Future', though In the past the riposte from sceptics has been that hydrogen’s role will always be in the future."

Hydrogen is gaining prominence through the need to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 deg C which is forcing more aggressive decarbonisation.  This has drawn in sectors such as marine, which are hard to decarbonise through electrification. So, while the physics, chemistry, and engineering challenges of hydrogen have not changed, the context for its use has.

Shipping provides a useful example, said McNaught. "A large vessel may carry thousands of tonnes of fuel oil.  Because the energy density (kWh/kg) of a battery system is typically 24 times lower, a Panamax cargo vessel (a mid-range container vessel) with 5,000 tonnes of fuel oil would need to carry 120,000 tonnes of batteries – more than twice the mass of the cargo carried.  While future vessels will be more efficient, hydrogen and hydrogen carriers, such as ammonia, can address this issue for shipping."

Ricardo has been involved with the development and demonstration of hydrogen technology for many years such as:

  • Fuel cell policy / feasibility e.g. for heavy duty applications
  • Hydrogen and ammonia production and use for shipping
  • Hydrogen for heavy-duty internal combustion engines

"The UK’s hydrogen strategy is a hugely positive step forward, as the Government commitment provides clarity that is important in itself, and as a mechanism for stimulating investment from the private sector. Indeed, the strategy will provide further stimulus for us to work with our clients in development and implementation of hydrogen technologies," said McNaught.

Mc Naught identifies three main elements of the UK hydrogen strategy.

  • Hydrogen Business Model (HBM), designed to addresses the supply and demand sides, help accaeslerate investment and ease cost considerations, through a long-term revenue support contract to producers of low carbon hydrogen.
  • Net Zero Hydrogen Fund (NZHF), a £240 million grant programme for hydrogen production, which will include suport for front-end engineering design studies.
  • Low carbon hydrogen standard, which will help define 'low carbon hydrogen' so that the new support measures can be directed to projects that tackle climate change.

The standard will be based on a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach so that the carbon emissions at different stages of hydrogen production are included. Ricardo’s extensive LCA work has demonstrated how critical this approach is: the carbon emissions (and wider environmental impacts) from the supply chain are often much more significant than the emissions from the production process itself.

Mc Naught concluded: "These three policies alone represent the greatest shift in UK energy policy to support low carbon hydrogen.  While we may not have a Hydrogen Economy, we are certainly going to have an economy with significant levels of Low Carbon Hydrogen from the mid-2020s.  We are seeing rapidly growing demand from our clients, and it is already clear that the 'Fuel of the Future' is quickly becoming a significant part of the decarbonisation solution in the present."

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