New partnership to explore plans to convert a town in Lincolnshire to run on low carbon hydrogen gas

Gas giants Equinor and Cadent have today thrown their hat into the ring in the race to develop the UK’s first hydrogen town, announcing a new partnership to explore the potential to convert a town near the Humber to run on low carbon hydrogen gas.

The companies said they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to assess how a hydrogen town conversion could be delivered in Lincolnshire.

Specifically, the firms plan to develop a range of technical assessments and concepts that would detail how hydrogen production, storage, demand, and distribution could provide heat for an entire town.

The project could draw on hydrogen produced at Equinor’s proposed H2H Saltend project on the Humber, which forms part of the wider Zero Carbon Humber project, and then be distributed through Cadent’s gas network in the region.

Converting the gas networks of a town from natural gas to 100 per cent low carbon hydrogen would drastically reduce the carbon emissions linked to home heating and could bring down overall emissions in the town by around a quarter, the companies said.

The proposals are designed to support the government’s Hydrogen Strategy, which was published this summer and included plans to develop “a hydrogen neighbourhood trial by 2023, followed by a large hydrogen village trial by 2025, and potentially a hydrogen town pilot before the end of the decade”.

The government is currently planning an initial ‘neighbourhood trial’ of approximately 300 homes in Levenmouth, Fife, which is due to start in 2023, before then exploring whether wider trials are justified.

The role of hydrogen as a source of heating for buildings remains controversial in some quarters, with some experts arguing that policymakers should largely focus on deploying electric heating technologies such as heat pumps as the primary means of decarbonising buildings, with hydrogen reserved for other applications.

However, some hydrogen advocates argue that converting gas and boilers to run on hydrogen could provide a less disruptive route for decarbonising buildings.

The government’s recent Heat and Buildings Strategy announced ambitious plans to drastically accelerate the roll out of heat pumps, but also promised to continue to explore whether hydrogen could play a role to play in cutting emissions from heating over the course of the decade, including through expanded pilot projects.

As such, Equinor and Cadent said its proposed project would initially explore both blending hydrogen into the existing gas network and switching to 100 per cent hydrogen options in targeted pilots in the Humber region, potentially providing the foundations to “enable the decarbonisation of the gas grid across the North of England and East Midlands, including to major conurbations in South Yorkshire”.

Dan Sadler, Vice President of UK Low Carbon Solutions at Equinor, said the plans had the potential to help further cement the Humber’s position as one of the UK’s leading clean tech hubs. “This is a fantastic opportunity for the Humber to target yet another ‘world first’ in the low carbon energy agenda, making it a beacon for global investment, innovation and economic growth,” he said. “Hydrogen offers one of the few options to reduce domestic heating emissions and we see great value in these UK trials happening here. We can continue to build on the multiple exciting hydrogen proposals in the Humber, including the flagship Equinor project at Saltend, to make this region a real focus of expertise in this growing sector.”

His comments were echoed by Sally Brewis, head of regional development at Cadent, who said Northern Lincolnshire was now “primed to play a major role in the UK hydrogen for heat revolution”.

“With a Hydrogen Transmission Pipeline already at detailed design stage, potential for large-scale hydrogen production and storage nearby and a gas distribution network that is ready to be re-purposed, it’s clearly an ideal location for a Hydrogen Town pilot,” she said. “We look forward to developing our plans with Equinor.”

In related news, Nobian and Macquarie’s Green Investment Group (GIG) this week announced they are joining forces to form a new industrial green hydrogen player, the Hydrogen Chemistry Company (HyCC).

The companies said HyCC will launch with a purpose-built team of hydrogen specialists spanning expertise across technology, manufacturing, project management, and commercial development as well as a pipeline of more than 400MW of electrolysis projects, including a planned 60MW facility in the north of the Netherlands to supply green hydrogen for renewable methanol and aviation fuels, a 100MW project near Amsterdam to enable sustainable steel production, and a 250MW project in Rotterdam to replace fossil-based hydrogen.

“Green hydrogen is vital to reduce emissions in a wide range of industries that are traditionally difficult to decarbonise – from steel and chemicals to shipping and aviation,” said Kate Vidgen, Head of Industrial Transition and Clean Fuels at Macquarie’s Green Investment Group. “We expect a rapid acceleration in the energy transition and are excited to invest alongside an experienced business in this field, to accelerate its development and help industries become more sustainable.”

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