Hydrogen has the potential to be a low-carbon alternative to gas in our homes and businesses, but first we need to test this fuel for the future. That’s where FutureGrid comes in.
Today most of us are reliant on gas to heat our homes and businesses, with 85% of households using gas central heating. But a waste product of burning gas for heat energy is carbon dioxide (CO2) – a greenhouse gas that, when released into the atmosphere, contributes to climate change. In contrast, when we burn hydrogen to produce heat energy the only waste product is water vapour.
Heating, cooking and industrial processes account for 37% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. So, to reach the climate change target of net zero by 2050 and dramatically lower these emissions, we need a green alternative to natural gas. Hydrogen has the potential to be that green alternative.
The ability to transport hydrogen through existing gas pipelines would minimise disruption, cancelling the need for new, expensive infrastructure to support a new hydrogen network. Another potential plus point is that, as people are used to using natural gas for cooking and heating, a switch to hydrogen energy using the same network has the potential to be an easier transition.
Reliability and safety are of the utmost importance to delivering low-carbon energy to people’s homes and businesses. So, extensive testing and detailed trials are essential to uncover the full potential for hydrogen and to understand what modifications may be needed to safely transport hydrogen.
Under our HyNTS programme – Hydrogen in the National Transmission System – we’ve already run several projects looking into the physical capabilities of the gas transmission system transporting hydrogen. The next step is FutureGrid, which aims to technically demonstrate how we can re-purpose our gas network to transport hydrogen.
Construction of the FutureGrid facility will begin at DNV GL’s test centre at Spadeadam in Cumbria this April (2021). The facility will be constructed ‘offline’ from the actual gas network, so we can mimic the real-life National Transmission System (NTS) operation quickly and safely.
The current NTS uses steel pipes to transport natural gas at high pressures. We need to fully understand the impact that high-pressure hydrogen exposure could have on these pipes and develop potential mitigations, before the network can be converted.
Most of the assets on our network aren’t brand new, so constructing the test facility using new pipes, valves and compressors won’t give us the information we need. The solution is to construct the facility from decommissioned assets of varying age, grade and manufacture. These assets have been thoroughly assessed to determine their suitability and have been sourced from sites across the UK, ready for when construction begins in April.
Once construction has completed in 2022, the FutureGrid testing phase can begin – flows of hydrogen at different concentrations of 2, 20 and 100% will be blended into the facility at full transmission pressures. These tests will help us understand how our gas assets could perform when exposed to the different hydrogen levels.
FutureGrid is an exciting opportunity for National Grid. It will help us gain a full understanding of how hydrogen could become a future energy to heat homes and deliver green energy to industries.