6 min

The hydrogen potential

Hydrogen is a promising renewable alternative to natural gas. Kiwa offers knowledge, expertise, research and testing.

Developing alternative and sustainable energy vectors is more important today than it has ever been in human history with a growing demand, and short timelines to implement. Kiwa helps research and develop future decarbonised energy solutions. One energy vector with a promising renewable future is hydrogen. Large-scale hydrogen-conversion projects have the potential to decarbonise emissions, with zero greenhouse gases at point of use, in a realistic timeline and economic manner. Our experts play a vital role in investigating the feasibility of converting large parts of our energy systems to hydrogen aimed at reducing CO2 emissions.

“However, similar to electricity which is used and transported at a variety of scales from power stations at 250,000 V to batteries at 1.5 V, hydrogen is used at a wide range of pressures and volumes. This in turn requires a wide range of technologies which can prove very challenging to new entrants to the hydrogen arena,” states Mark Crowther of Kiwa UK.

Different contexts, different challenges

Context is key, adds Crowther, and Kiwa understands the different challenges set by the different contexts and scales of technology – see the boxed text. “Understandably, all these technologies have very different performance criteria and safety standards, but it takes a company like Kiwa to be able to navigate its way through what is a complex field,” says Crowther. “Just like a watch battery cannot be tested in the same way in which you might test a power station, a domestic hydrogen boiler has very different requirements to a hydrogen storage tank in a car or train.”

Hydrogen contexts and scales of technology

  • Automotive/transportation: very high pressures (up to 900 bar), but small pipes (often >10 mm ID) and equipment that, although very sophisticated, can essentially be manhandled. Several kg of stored gas.
  • Micro-CHP: often modest pressures (<10 bar) and <25 mm pipes, often almost zero stored gas.
  • Hydrogen production: Typically modest pressures (<30 bar) and 150 mm pipes, often with several tonnes of stored gas.
  • Hydrogen distribution: usual distribution pressures, often below 100 mbar (0.1 bar) and pipes up to 500 mm. The scale of the equipment is huge.
  • Hydrogen use in the home, commerce and industry: this should be able to largely use the repurposed natural gas infrastructure operating below 200 mbarg (0.2 barg).

Towards a hydrogen economy

Kiwa UK’s Mark Eldridge explains that it is important these initiatives, in support of an integrated energy system, are supported by robust technical evidence, safety case, testing, inspection and certification – a role Kiwa is uniquely positioned to fulfil.

Very few companies offer the market this breadth of capability, knowledge and understanding.
Mark Eldridge, Kiwa UK

“Kiwa is a global leader in the testing and certification of hydrogen based components and appliances in all of the above sectors in addition to and other gases, as well as contributing to numerous hydrogen-related initiatives in the UK and Europe,” he notes. “Our aim is to support the different stages of each country’s transition to a hydrogen economy. By sharing and learning from these experiences across the Kiwa Group, we help our customers reduce the lead time on hydrogen evolution in their specific contexts. Very few companies offer the market this breadth of capability, knowledge and understanding.”

A game changer in global energy

Hydrogen is widely used in many industrial processes (over 50 million tonnes per year), but until recently its potential as a fuel for domestic, commercial and transport applications was largely latent. The main reason for this must be cost: hydrogen is always going to cost more than natural gas from shallow onshore gas fields, but acknowledgement of climate change is changing this. Going forward, more pertinent reasons are probably a robust safety case, a lack of infrastructure to reach point of use, the complexity of linking various energy systems and the required changes to gas quality.

But hydrogen’s potential clearly needs to be tapped into, Eldridge stresses. “If existing gas networks are converted to hydrogen, it will be a game changer for our global energy systems, as it unlocks transport and heating infrastructures with zero emissions, overnight.”

Domestic trials within 3 years

Among the UK and international R&D projects in which Kiwa is engaged are Hy4Heat, H21, Hydeploy and H100, which all look at how to reduce CO2 emissions throughout various energy networks. H100, for example, investigates the feasibility of converting a part of the UK’s gas network from natural gas to hydrogen. The £25 million Hy4Heat project, funded by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, will provide the evidence case to allow the government to make a decision on a potential domestic trial for hydrogen within the UK. Elsewhere in the UK, the Hydeploy project is looking at blending hydrogen within the existing network.

Eldridge hopes that in two to five years, the variety of UK projects underway will see locations where 300 to 500 homes will be plugged into hydrogen networks operating either blended (up to 20% v/v H2, or 100% conversion). “It is conceptually simple, yet there are a number of safety, legislative, infrastructure and systems based challenges to overcome,” he says. “Yet once in place, many downstream opportunities exist to decarbonise our energy systems in the UK and across the globe.” Kiwa offers services and solutions across all of these elements.

Converting energy systems, and consumers

Development is moving forward, with the view of making hydrogen appliances available to the public by 2022. However, Eldridge specifies, in order to reach point of use, a number of challenges need to be addressed. One crucial factor is helping consumers understand the benefits of hydrogen. As Eldridge puts it, “Economically, it may be viable, technically it will be proven and possible, yet if the work is not supported by consumer perception and engagement, it may stall.

At Kiwa, we are ‘hydrogen believers’ – that is why we offer such a wide range of services to support our customers’ conversion to hydrogen. At the same time it will take education and engagement with all stakeholders to make such changes acceptable and a reality. This holistic approach all forms part of our engagement.”

Kiwa takes a holistic approach to the challenge of harnessing hydrogen’s potential.