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UK's hydrogen future could involve both blue and green pathways: panel

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UK's hydrogen future could involve both blue and green pathways: panel

Highlights

UK hydrogen strategy not expected until Q2

Carbon intensity could be a measurement for hydrogen market development

London — The UK's hydrogen future could involve a mix of both blue and green production pathways, but it needs to get started or risk falling behind, panelists said March 3.

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That sense of urgency has been created by the momentum around the world with over 30 countries releasing hydrogen strategies globally, Chris Jackson, executive director of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association said.

The UK strategy, which is not expected until Q2 2021, needs to be "ambitious enough to offset the time lost without having a plan," Jackson said.

Concern over the production pathway and where the government lends its support is one of the constant early themes for hydrogen development, as different countries have rallied around either "blue" hydrogen produced from natural gas with carbon capture technologies or "green" hydrogen produced from renewables through a process of electrolysis.

Jackson presented an overview of the association's position paper, 'The case for green hydrogen,' which noted the urgency around meeting Net Zero targets.

"The fact is, we don't have multiple decades to make this happen," Jackson said. "We need to have a policy that underpins [decarbonization] and delivers on what science is already telling us."

Jackson would like to see the UK phase out grey hydrogen produced through reforming of natural gas without carbon capture by 2040. That would allow blue and green hydrogen to work alongside each other with a target of 40 GW capacity, he said.

That would require some changes to existing UK policies, such as creating a 10-year moratorium on VAT change for low carbon hydrogen production and allowing hydrogen produced from biowaste with carbon capture to qualify under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) standards.

"The aim is not to replicate existing mechanisms," he said. "Instead, there have to be more effective mechanisms. The current rules in RTFO do not do that."

Green hydrogen no 'silver bullet': UK MP

The panel discussion included British MP Alexander Stafford, who noted the importance of green hydrogen over the long-term.

"Green hydrogen is essential – it's the destination all hydrogen ought to get to," he said. "My concern is that [the government] puts out support for hydrogen, and businesses get to blue hydrogen and they stop."

Stafford emphasized the need to find a range of solutions potentially for introducing hydrogen to the general public. Hydrogen could be an alternative solution to electrification for hard-to-decarbonize sectors including heavy-duty transportation and home heating, he said.

"We are not going to get there with Teslas alone," he said.

The UK has been split on blue versus green as its main concern is getting to Net Zero by 2050, Stafford said.

Perhaps the best path could be just getting started, said Matthew Knight, head of market development at Siemens.

"Blue and green hydrogen results in the same thing – the molecule," Knight said.

Knight noted the blue vs. green debate almost pits two completely different industries against each other. Blue hydrogen is done at a much greater scale typically in an industrial cluster with a shared carbon storage sight. Projects cost $3 billion - $5 billion to build, he said. By comparison, green hydrogen projects can be built anywhere at a much smaller scale.

For the purposes of market development, the division of hydrogen into production pathways defined by colors could be self-defeating, said Daryl Wilson, executive director of the Hydrogen Council.

Wilson noted the need for a system of measuring carbon content by the life cycle emissions over time could help build confidence in hydrogen markets.

"The whole scheme of colors is built to be informational," he said. "But the more mature approach is to look at the amount of CO2 per kilogram of hydrogen – that is more reflective of reality."