Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements in the universe and could play a significant role in the transition to a low-carbon renewable energy system. Shell sees potential for the use of hydrogen power in a variety of areas, from transport to industry to heating. Find out more below.
How can the UK transition to a low-carbon energy future while also making sure everyone continues to have access to the energy they need? Meeting this challenge will require fundamental changes in the types of energy we use, as well as the way in which it’s produced.
As a clean, safe and versatile energy carrier, hydrogen, and hydrogen fuel-cell technologies, have significant potential to enable this transition. Hydrogen is exciting energy option with lots still to be explored, and Shell sees the opportunity for hydrogen power in a number of areas:
Hydrogen has the potential to be an important, safe, low-carbon transport fuel, particularly for heavy-duty transport such as trucks and buses.
In hydrogen vehicles, energy is stored as compressed hydrogen fuel. This means that these vehicles can drive up to 700 km without refuelling and take only a few minutes to refuel.
Hydrogen vehicles also produce no greenhouse gases from the exhaust pipe – the only emission is water vapour. And when renewable electricity is used to make the hydrogen, then the process of driving a hydrogen powered vehicle is nearly emission-free.
In the UK, Shell has opened three hydrogen refuelling stations so far with partner ITM Power, at Shell Beaconsfield, Shell Cobham and Shell Gatwick North, with two more to follow.
Some industries have started to use hydrogen as a feedstock, or fuel, to power processes. And when the hydrogen is produced cleanly it can lower the carbon emissions of the industrial process.
Shell is currently exploring several renewable energy initiatives across the UK that may ultimately increase the production of clean hydrogen, particularly for use in industry.
This includes Project Acorn in Scotland where Shell, Storegga (Pale Blue Dot) and Harbour Energy are equal partners. Project Acorn is looking to provide critical carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen infrastructure that will help the UK to decarbonise.
Heating is another area that is difficult to decarbonise, and currently heating Britain’s buildings and hot water is responsible for nearly a fifth of UK greenhouse gas emissions.
More than 80% of homes in the UK are heated by natural gas, with the rest heated by electricity, oil or LPG. So, replacing these fuels with low-carbon alternatives is a critical step to reducing the UK’s emissions.
Hydrogen can be stored at high energy density in liquid or gaseous form for long periods of time – particularly important in the UK where energy demand is much greater in winter than in summer – and can also be combusted in boilers for heating. As such, Shell believes that there is a role for hydrogen power to play in the decarbonisation of central heating systems.
Producing hydrogen cleanly is a crucial step to ensuring its potential as a clean form of energy. Most of the hydrogen available today is produced using energy from hydrocarbons, particularly natural gas. Hydrogen produced in this way is known as ‘grey’ hydrogen.
While this process generates significant carbon emissions, it can be made almost emission-free by using carbon capture and storage (CCS) to store any carbon emissions that are produced safely back underground. The product is then known as ‘blue’ hydrogen.
Hydrogen can also be made via electrolysis, by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen using electricity from renewable energy sources. When produced like this, the process is also almost emission-free, and the hydrogen is known as ‘green’ hydrogen. All hydrogen power supplied at Shell’s retail stations in the UK is green hydrogen.
Here’s how these processes work:
The following primary energy sources can be used: Biogas or Biomethane; Natural Gas; Solar or Wind.
Biogas or Biomethane, or Natural Gas go through a thermochemical conversion called steam methane reform (SMR) which produces a reaction with steam and forms a synthetic gas that consists predominantly of hydrogen.
Natural gas, solar or wind as a primary energy source can be used to produce electricity, which then is used in a process called electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Either of these processes produce hydrogen.
Working together to achieve a renewable energy future
Effective UK Government policies and support to develop infrastructure and build customer demand are essential for making hydrogen a viable form of energy.
That is why Shell is involved in several initiatives that aim to support the UK Government. In July 2020, the Government launched the Hydrogen Advisory Council that is co-chaired by Minister Kwarteng and Sinead Lynch, Shell UK Country Chair. The aim of this council is to explore and advance the development of hydrogen as a decarbonised energy carrier for the UK.
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