IGas are proposing to install hydrogen generation systems at two of their sites in Surrey, at Albury and Bletchingley.
Hydrogen burns without producing any carbon dioxide and other emissions except water. Consequently, IGas are claiming that their hydrogen production can be part of the transition to the UK Net Zero.
This is misleading on a number of grounds. Their plans will lead to a significant increase in emissions at their sites in Surrey.
Steam Methane Reformation – not low carbon
IGas propose using a process called Steam Methane Reformation (SMR). This is a system that mixes natural gas (methane) with high temperature steam (700°C–1,000°C)
Hydrogen production results in significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions than using natural gas directly. This is mainly for two reasons:
1. The SMR process requires a great deal of heat. Presumably IGas will be burning their own gas to produce this heat. This combustion process will release climate changing emissions.
2. All conversion processes from one form of energy to another result in some loss. A recent parliamentary briefing states we will need to use 15-66% more natural gas to make up for energy losses should we replace natural gas with hydrogen made with the SMR process in our heating systems.
In their proposal IGas refer to the role of hydrogen in the government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial revolution as if their proposal is part of this plan. It is not.
The Ten Point Plan has two key proposals for hydrogen production.
- Hydrogen production from fossils fuels with Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCUS). Here most of the emissions will be captured and not released into the atmosphere. This is known as “blue’ hydrogen. The UK government has recently started investing in developing CCUS in six low carbon hubs. However, none of these hubs is in the South of England and only two are projected to be completed by 2030.
- “Green” hydrogen produced from water using electrolysis. Where the electricity comes from renewable resources it results in very low emissions indeed. There are plans for such a facility in Kent, where Ryse Hydrogen is building a plant in Herne Bay, using electricity from the nearby wind farm and hopes to be in production by 2022.
The IGas proposal doesn’t fit into either of these categories.
The government was due to produce a hydrogen strategy earlier this year, but it has been delayed and it is now due to be published in July 2021. Once this strategy is published any role for onshore gas sites, should there be any, will become much clearer.
Ann Stewart, a campaigner with the Weald Action Group said: “What does seem clear already is that hydrogen production will increase greenhouse gas emissions in Surrey at a time when the county says it is endeavouring to reduce them.
“Surrey needs to reject this attempt by IGas to avert the decline that their industry faces by misleading its residents, and work towards promoting genuine, low-carbon industries.”