MPs Committee report: Hydrogen not a panacea for achieving Net Zero but could play 'big niche' role

Mon 19 December 2022 View all news

A new report from the Science and Technology Select Committee of MPs says that hydrogen "is not a panacea" for reaching the Net Zero emissions reductions by 2050 but can grow to become “a big niche” fuel in particular sectors and applications.

In transport, the Committee's 85-page report says that battery technologies have established "a seemingly unassailable lead over other green alternatives" for passenger cars, meaning that hydrogen will play in the near future, at most, a small part in their decarbonisation.

However, the report says that hydrogen is a potentially viable alternative to electrification for HGVs but its widespread adoption can only be achieved with an assurance that hydrogen will be widely available across the country. The report notes that: "Whilst other countries have given commitments to hydrogen refuelling stations, the UK has been more reticent to date".

The inquiry - The role of hydrogen in achieving Net Zero -  was opened in December 2020. Zemo's Head of Sustainability, Gloria Esposito, was an expert witness to the inquiry.

The Committee supports accelerated investigations into the potential for the use of hydrogen in buses, noting that this would not require the creation of an extensive refuelling network and could be operated out of a fixed number of depots. It urges the Government to continue to support trials and "come to a rapid view of the contribution that hydrogen-fuelled buses can make". (It also notes that trials should consider the implications for other applications such as HGVs, and the decisions the trials will help to inform.)

The extent to which hydrogen can be produced without creating greenhouse gas emissions determines whether it can make a useful contribution to decarbonisation. Currently in the UK hydrogen is overwhelmingly produced from fossil-fuel intensive processes—so called 'grey hydrogen'—which globally accounts for 2% of carbon emissions.

Efficient production of low carbon ‘green’ hydrogen relies on abundant cheap renewable electricity and so-called ‘blue’ hydrogen requires carbon capture and storage (CCS), which, the report says, is not deployed at the large scale required to make a material contribution to emissions reductions.

The Committee concludes, therefore that: "it is 'unwise' to assume hydrogen can make a large contribution to reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions in the short and medium term".

In a series of recommendations, the Committee urges the Government to make decisions on what technological solutions should be prioritised, saying that there are potentially significant learnings from international counterparts in terms of the regulatory frameworks and scales of investment needed.

The Committee asks the Government to urgently outline a series of decision points between now and 2050 that will set out in practical terms the role of hydrogen in the UK’s future energy system. This should include specifying what scientific and technological progress needs to be made at each stage, such as requirements for the deployment of CCS to make blue hydrogen economic and the level of renewable generation that would lead to surplus power which could be used to produce green hydrogen.

Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, the Committee Chair said: “There are significant infrastructure challenges associated with converting our energy networks to use hydrogen and uncertainty about when low carbon hydrogen can be produced at scale at an economical cost. 

“But there are important applications for hydrogen in particular industries so it can be, in the words of one witness to our inquiry, 'a big niche'.

“We welcome the Government’s high-level strategy and support of hydrogen trials, but future decisions on the role of hydrogen must increasingly be practical, taking into account what is technically and economically achievable. We call on the Government to set out a series of decision points, which would give industry the clarity that it needs.” 

Commenting on the report, Andy Eastlake, Zemo's Chief Executive said: “ The Committee has tackled this issue robustly and, I think, accurately reflected the challenges and opportunities for hydrogen in transport. 

"We welcome the call to strengthen the evidence-base with accelerated, independent trials enabling rapid decision making on the potential viability of hydrogen as a fuel for HGVs.  We also endorse the calls for international collaboration and evidence-gathering, particularly with reference to HGVs, and would add that there should also be specific consideration given to Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM).

"The Committee is right to identify buses as having potential for the use of hydrogen in certain situations and the need for accelerated trials to identify the opportunities that could exist." 




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