Every UK region needs a hydrogen hub

Every UK region needs a hydrogen hub

The past few weeks have seen another flurry of new hydrogen cluster announcements across the UK.

In early August, a Hydrogen Ecosystem was unveiled by the GW4 Alliance of leading universities in the UK’s southwest and Western Gateway, a grouping of regional government and enterprise bodies focused on net zero delivery.

Less than two weeks later, proposals for a 35 MW commercial hydrogen hub, located on industrial-zoned land in Barrow-in-Furness, UK were launched by a public-private partnership involving Carlton Power, Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, Barrow Borough Council, Cadent, and Electricity North West.

This week, the UK government revealed the 20 shortlisted projects from Hynet and East Coast Cluster that were chosen for funding last year. Hydrogen production projects including bpH2Teesside, H2NorthEast, Hydrogen to Humber (H2H) Saltend and HyNet Hydrogen Production Project (HPP) will all proceed to the due diligence stage of the Phase-2 Cluster Sequencing process.

The three hubs are all very different in flavour. The projects arising from the two government-backed clusters are in the UK’s most industrialised regions and are huge in scale.

The Hydrogen Ecosystem developed by GW4 Alliance and Western Gateway represents a blueprint for how some of the UK’s leading research universities – Bristol, Bath, Cardiff and Exeter – can work with industry to develop the infrastructure needed to build a regional hydrogen economy. Elements of the plan include hydrogen production facilities, networks of hydrogen transportation and storage, and related industry including aviation.

The hub being led by Carlton Power envisages clean hydrogen being produced at scale, for use by Cumbrian businesses including Carlton Power itself, which sees the potential for hydrogen to store renewable energy produced from its solar and wind portfolio.

These projects join half a dozen others that have been unveiled over the past year, including the Port of Shoreham in West Sussex where H2 Green plans to produce hydrogen through electrolysis to power the Port’s fleet of heavy goods vehicles and forklifts before ramping up production to serve the 800 HGVs that use Port of Shoreham daily for other organisations.

Portsmouth International Port is building a modular electrolyser to produce green hydrogen for the port and the local area as part of the Shipping, Hydrogen and Port Ecosystems UK (SHAPE UK) project. It has also partnered with Cox Powertrain to convert a diesel engine to dual fuel hydrogen, a technology of particular interest to the maritime industry.

UK engineering and environment consultants Ricardo in February launched Hydrogen Sussex, through which to pool expertise from academia, industry, transport, and utilities to position hydrogen as a mainstream energy carrier on the south coast. Ricardo is investing £2.5 million in a hydrogen development and test facility in Shoreham Hydrogen East, based around Bacton on the Norfolk coast, will have access to the growing roster of offshore wind projects nearby, including Norfolk Vanguard and Sheringham Shoal.

Portsmouth International Port is building a modular electrolyser to produce green hydrogen for the port and the local area as part of the Shipping, Hydrogen and Port Ecosystems UK (SHAPE UK) project.

While the announcement of each hydrogen hub is a vote of confidence in the emerging hydrogen economy, we look forward to a time when hydrogen is so ubiquitous the idea of a hub no longer makes sense.

Talk of a natural gas hub or an electricity hub doesn’t occur because almost everywhere in the UK has access to those commodities. For now, the hub approach is the right strategy because industry and utilities need to work together to ensure supply is matched with demand.

Eventually, all these hubs will be joined to each other and users whether industrial, transport or energy, won’t need to think so hard where to get access to H2.

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