Experts discuss hydrogen’s role in pursuit of net zero


MPs have heard from experts on hydrogen’s role in achieving net zero, its levels of efficiency and what government can do to drive progress.

On 3 March, the Science and Technology Committee heard from experts as part of its inquiry into the role of hydrogen in achieving net zero ,and found they disagreed over its importance in achieving the 2050 target. Professor Nilay Shah of Imperial College London said its role will depend on the extent of retrofitting of buildings and the need for new residential heating solutions, suggesting a more stable role for hydrogen can be expected in areas such as industrial decarbonisation and international trade.

Dr Jenifer Baxter of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers explained the key thing, at first, is changing the type of hydrogen currently used in the petrochemical, manufacturing and fertiliser industries – which tends to be grey or brown – before the rollout of new infrastructure to support these industries can lead to options beyond these industries. In contrast, both Professor David Cebon of the University of Cambridge and Bloomberg New Energy Finance founder, Michael Liebrich, felt hydrogen’s role will be reserved for places that cannot be electrified, expressing concerns over its efficiency and cost.

The committee also heard from Chair of the Carbon Trust and former Vice Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, Baroness Brown. Brown drew on the central scenario for achieving the Sixth Carbon Budget, which cites a need for 225TWh of hydrogen by 2050. Its major uses would be for ammonia in shipping and decarbonising industrial processes, with smaller roles possible in areas such as specialist transport uses. Brown said: “It is not hydrogen as a magic solution for everything. It is that there are some very key areas where it looks like being a very important player.”

On the issue of efficiency, Baxter explained that it would always be a challenge when having to extract an energy vector from another set of components. Rather than comparing hydrogen and electrification, the question should be what is the wider energy system currently being used and what parts need to be changed. Around 90% of the energy system will have to be changed, with hydrogen helping to displace some fossil fuels.

When asked about the forthcoming hydrogen strategy and where the government should place its focus, Shah stressed the importance of getting all aspects of the system up and running in one go. There would be little point in subsidising someone to produce hydrogen if there is nobody to transport, store or use it. Liebrich, meanwhile, spoke of the importance of closing the economic gap hydrogen has and looking at ways of achieving that.