Combining carbon capture with using hydrogen for heating and cooking would cut CO2 and create jobs, report suggests

A new report from carbon capture and storage experts suggests that if hydrogen were used as a domestic fuel it would significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions – but only with strict provisos over how the hydrogen were generated.

Launched today, July 11, 2016, the H21 Leeds City Gate report outlines the findings of a two year project undertaken by Northern Gas Networks (NGN), Kiwa Gastec, Amec Foster Wheeler and Wales and West Utilities.

The report envisages burning hydrogen in place of natural methane for heating and cooking in domestic and commercial premises beginning in Leeds and eventually covering the entire UK.. This would produce water as a product of the combustion process, and overall would generate 73 per cent less carbon dioxide then using natural gas as a fuel. Heating and cooking is currently responsible for over 30 per cent of UK CO2 emissions.

There is a catch, however. The hydrogen would have to be generated from fossil fuels: effectively, by stripping it from the very natural gas that would have been burned in the first place. This would entail using the industrial process known as steam methane reforming, where methane and steam are reacted together to form carbon monoxide and hydrogen; the CO can be further reacted with steam to form carbon dioxide and more hydrogen. The report stresses that only by capturing and storing the CO2 can the process achieve its low-carbon potential. Although the report concedes that hydrogen could also be made by using renewably-sourced electricity to split hydrogen from water by electrolysis, this would be far more expensive; the route via reforming hydrocarbons, whether this be natural gas or from other sources, is more economic.

The ability to use existing infrastructure to deliver the hydrogen is key to the concept, commented Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage (SCCS) director Stuart Haszeldine. Other decarbonisation methods for heating would entail digging up urban streets, with all the cost and disruption that implies.

The switch to hydrogen would also be beneficial as a job-creator, the report suggests.

“CCS and hydrogen represent a winning combination for UK decarbonisation efforts, and I welcome the launch of the H21 Leeds City Gate report to point the way forward,” Haszeldine added.