'World first' Buxton test facility to see if hydrogen could power UK homes

Engineers at work on one of the control panels.
Engineers at work on one of the control panels.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Science and Research Centre in Buxton is to carry out tests on hydrogen gas - deciding whether it could safely replace natural gas in the UK.

If results prove a 100 per cent hydrogen gas network is as safe as natural gas the heating of millions of homes and businesses across the country could be provided by the low-carbon energy source.

Gas network assets such as pipes will be sent from across the north for testing on the specially-built facility, which will determine whether the existing network can be safely switched to supplying hydrogen instead of natural gas.

Gas network assets such as pipes will be sent from across the north for testing on the specially-built facility, which will determine whether the existing network can be safely switched to supplying hydrogen instead of natural gas.

Hydrogen is a naturally-occurring and plentiful element which is high in energy and produces no carbon when burned - often produced on a small scale using electrolysis of water.

Scientists with H21 - the world’s largest project to reduce carbon emissions - believe a large-scale conversion of the gas grid from natural gas to hydrogen is vital to meeting the Government’s 2050 net zero carbon target.

Currently about 30 per cent of UK carbon emissions are from the heating of homes, businesses and industry.

Excitingly project leaders Northern Gas Networks (NGN) say it could put the UK at the forefront of hydrogen conversion - with the potential to create and sustain thousands of high-quality jobs.

The invited experts tour the new test facility.

The invited experts tour the new test facility.

It could be the catalyst for other forms of hydrogen technology such as cars, trains, lorries and buses and enable UK industry to export its skills and services across the world.

The Buxton testing facilities were built following the H21 North of England report - which sets out detailed plans on how hydrogen could be used to deliver clean energy to nearly 4 million homes and 40,000 businesses and industries in the North of England by 2034.

Andrew Curran, HSE’s Chief Scientific Adviser said: “We are pleased to be part of the H21 programme and in particular that we are housing this new specialist facility here in Buxton.

"We are sure this will become a key component in providing the evidence which will enable hydrogen to become a safe, clean and resilient component of our approach to achieving zero-emissions by 2050.”

Pipe sections dug up from streets across the north on test at the Buxton site.

Pipe sections dug up from streets across the north on test at the Buxton site.

Once test results have been established they will be assessed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy - who are due to publish a low carbon gas consultation later this year.

NGN is working with Cadent, SGN and Wales & West Utilities, HSE Science and Research Centre and DNV-GL as part of a number of gas industry projects designed to support conversion to 100 per cent hydrogen.

Mark Horsley, Chief Executive of Northern Gas Networks said: “I’m proud that H21 is launching the world’s first 100% hydrogen testing facility.

“The potential for this low carbon gas to make inroads into decarbonisation is immense and the work that Northern Gas Networks and its partners is doing here is critical in understanding how we can make a zero-carbon, hydrogen-based gas grid a reality.

Discussions on the future of hydrogen before the visits to the test plant.

Discussions on the future of hydrogen before the visits to the test plant.

"This will not only enable us to meet decarbonisation targets but it will improve air quality in towns and cities, create thousands of good jobs and place the UK as a global-leader in hydrogen technology."

“We look forward to sharing our results with the Government, the sector and other industries so that we can work collaboratively to achieve a clean, hydrogen economy as soon as possible and deliver on the promise of low carbon energy for our communities.”

Anna Turley MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hydrogen said: “It is great to see world-leading hydrogen conversion projects taking place in the UK.

"As a country we can be leaders in a large-scale shift to using hydrogen for heating our homes, fuelling transport and powering heavy industry.

“H21 is a hugely important project helping to achieve this and I congratulate all the organisations involved in successfully creating the first ever 100 per cent hydrogen test facility - I look forward to seeing the results and working with H21 to share these across Parliament and with the Government”.

Jonathan Brearley, Ofgem’s executive director systems and networks said: “To hit the target of net zero carbon by 2050 it is critical that we transition to low carbon forms of heating - hydrogen is a key contender to support this transition and could also be used as a clean fuel for transport.

Keynote speaker Jonathan Brearley, Executive Director of OFGEM, addresses the meeting.

Keynote speaker Jonathan Brearley, Executive Director of OFGEM, addresses the meeting.

“I am delighted to open this H21 hydrogen testing facility for which Ofgem awarded £9 million to Northern Gas Networks through our Network Innovation Competition - Ofgem supports innovation that seeks to achieve decarbonisation of heating safely at the lowest cost and least disruption to consumers.”

Ed Syson, chief safety and strategy officer at Cadent said: “Cadent recognises the importance of working in partnership across the gas industry and with innovative companies on a variety of hydrogen projects, from blended hydrogen projects such as HyNet and Hydeploy, to the H21 100 per cent hydrogen project which will enable us all to work towards lower carbon emissions and decarbonise the gas grids.

“Repurposing the UK’s gas network to carry blended gas, a mixture of methane and hydrogen or 100 per cent hydrogen has huge potential to address decarbonisation in a sustainable and affordable way – and in particular the intractable areas around domestic heat, industry and heavy transport.

"The launch of the H21 test facility is another important step on the path to securing the delivery of low and zero-carbon energy and is essential if the UK is to meet its stringent climate change targets.”