WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
One of the problems we have “greening” our electricity supply is converting old gas power stations to cleaner fuels and this is the first major step.
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Hydrogen will be injected into an emergency gas-fired power station for the first time in a pilot backed by Centrica, the owner of British Gas.
Centrica has invested in an industry joint venture which will trial using hydrogen at an existing “peaking plant” at its Brigg station in Lincolnshire. The pilot, which will launch in the second half of next year, is aimed at examining the role that hydrogen can play in producing power.
Peaking power stations generally run only when there is a high, or peak, demand for electricity. The 49MW gas-fired station at Brigg is designed to meet demand during peak times or when generation from renewables is low, typically operating for less than three hours a day.
The Future of Energy 2050, by Keynote Matthew Griffin
The pilot is one of 20 projects part-funded by an £8m programme from the Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC), which receives funding from the UK and Scottish governments.
Centrica has also increased its stake in HiiROC, the start-up behind the project, from 2% to 5%, a small investment for the £4bn energy giant. In November 2021, HiiROC raised £26m from a collection of investors including Centrica, industrial buyout firm Melrose, investment fund HydrogenOne and carmakers Hyundai and Kia.
The project is designed to test to the practicalities of mixing hydrogen in with natural gas at a power plant, with the aim of reducing the overall carbon intensity of the site. In its early stages, just 3% of the gas mix is expected to be hydrogen, rising incrementally to 20%. Partners in the initiative hope ultimately to power the plant using just hydrogen and set a precedent to decarbonise other gas-fired peaking plants.
Hydrogen is produced by splitting water using electricity, with minimal emissions. It is seen as key to decarbonising energy-intensive industries although there is fierce debate over its use and the motivations of the army of lobbyists pushing its cause in Westminster.
HiiROC, founded in Hull in 2019, has developed an electrolysis process using technology that can create hydrogen at lower costs and with lower emissions than other methods.
Its process converts biomethane, flare gas or natural gas into hydrogen and carbon black, a byproduct that can be used in tyres, rubbers and printing inks.
Greg McKenna, managing director of Centrica Business Solutions, said: “Gas still plays a huge role in maintaining a secure, stable supply of power in the UK, with around 40 per cent of our power coming from natural gas. So, it’s vital that we find ways to reduce the carbon intensity of gas plants like that at Brigg.
“We’re delighted to get the grant funding from the NZTC in order to explore the role of hydrogen in providing the low carbon back-up power we’ll need in order to maintain security of supply as more renewable energy comes on stream.”
Centrica has notched up bumper profits and reinstated its dividend this year as the price of wholesale gas has soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Centrica is already converting part of the site at Brigg into a battery storage facility designed to store power generated by nearby onshore windfarms.