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Government Hydrogen Strategy, Private Sector Delivery

Element 2 CEO Tim Harper discusses the UK Government’s Hydrogen Strategy on BBC News.

It was good to see that hydrogen has finally appeared on the UK Government’s policy agenda, although the source of the hydrogen is sure to generate some fierce debate. We support the Government’s strategy to invest in the hydrogen economy and meet the increase in demand. Element 2 is ready to support the Government’s objectives and we believe we can exceed expectations with our vision to build the UK’s hydrogen infrastructure.

Having a UK hydrogen strategy is a good thing, albeit one with targets more modest than those in the rest of Europe. For example the planned 5GW of electrolysis will be capable of producing just 200 tonnes of hydrogen per day by 2030. That’s enough to power 8,000 busses, but not the half a million HGVs on the UKs roads which account for six times more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire bus fleet.

The assumption is therefore that the rest of the hydrogen will come from blue hydrogen – methane (natural gas) that has been converted into hydrogen with the carbon dioxide captured, used or stored. The challenge in capturing carbon at this scale is a big one, and something that is yet to be successfully demonstrated anywhere in the world, which has led to accusations that blue hydrogen is just greenwashed fossil fuel. As the most enthusiastic proponents of blue hydrogen are the large energy companies there may be something in this.

Can all the HGVs and delivery vans be powered using hydrogen without resorting to fossil fuels by another name? If they can then almost a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions from transport, which are a third of the UK’s total emissions, could vanish by 2030.

At Element 2 we have spent the last year putting in place agreements to obtain green hydrogen from a wide variety of sources, and we think it can be achieved.

The increasing number of companies producing green hydrogen, which will quickly exceed the Government’s target, plus the avalanche of new technologies coming on stream to produce and store hydrogen means there will be more than enough to supply the HGV’s and busses. Hydrogen made from curtailed wind or hydro, i.e. electricity that is surplus to demand, allows green hydrogen to be generated economically, while we also have renewable sources of hydrogen from waste plastics, food and agriculture increasingly available. As a result, we expect parity with diesel – based on cost per mile driven – within the next two to three years. The UK Government’s hydrogen strategy has the potential to bring this tipping point even closer.

However, none of this matters unless you have somewhere to fill up with hydrogen, which is why we are building a network of refuelling stations across the UK. With our first refuelling stations in place in 2022, and a network of 800 by 2027, with a forecast output of 240 Tonnes of hydrogen per day then the final barrier to using hydrogen will have been removed.

So while it’s good to have a government strategy, it will be the private sector, driven by a combination of pressure to decarbonise from customers and investors, and economics that will deliver. Element 2 will decarbonise 13 per cent of the UK’s emissions by 2030, without the use of any taxpayer’s money, freeing up funds to either speed up the energy transition or focus efforts on hard to decarbonise sectors.