The Sunday Telegraph - Business & Money
Ratcliffe says UK falling behind on hydrogen
BRITAIN is “yet to get out of the blocks” on hydrogen power and is being left behind by Germany’s advancements with the green technology, Sir Jim Ratcliffe has said.
Writing for The Sunday Telegraph, the billionaire chemicals tycoon warned that the UK must embrace the “dream fuel” if Boris Johnson is to succeed in his push to go carbon neutral by 2050.
It comes as Britain seeks to decarbonise its power system by 2035, with millions of homes expected to be converted to using hydrogen boilers at a cost of billions of pounds.
Sir Jim said that Germany has already invested €9bn (£7.6bn) in the switch to hydrogen power, with over 200 filling stations operational for vehicles running on fuel cells that use the gas.
He said: “The infrastructure, clearly critical, needs a government push on legislation and investment. The German government is ahead. UK authorities have yet to get out of the blocks but hopefully soon will. Britain has only a handful of hydrogen pumps today.”
To make a hydrogen economy work, Sir Jim said that three things are needed: production of equipment capable of being fuelled by the gas, industry to ramp up its ability to manufacture hydrogen, and the infrastructure needed to make it practical.
Before the 1800s, it was not uncommon for the Thames to freeze over for two months. The four highest temperatures recorded on planet Earth have all occurred since 2015.
Kids born near Lake Tahoe today will likely never ski there, and an iconic Dutch skating race along 200 kilometres of the country’s traditional canals and through 11 of its cities was last held in 1997.
Donald Trump may have attempted to claim it was “fake news”, but global warming is here to stay and is now widely accepted as one of the planet’s biggest threats.
The cause is simple. We burn fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) to produce energy which is essential to our modern lifestyle. The by-product is CO2, which pops up into our atmosphere and sits there like a fluffy blanket keeping the heat in. We unquestionably need to reduce the planet’s carbon footprint, or it will continue overheating.
Hydrogen is the dream fuel. You can heat your home with it. You can drive your car on it. Burn it and all it produces is energy. The only by-product is water. We can all live with that.
Even better, hydrogen can be made from just water and green electricity produced from windmills, hydroelectric plants and solar cells. From cradle to grave, it can be zero carbon.
In simple terms, the process works like this. Water molecules are subjected to a high current in an electric cell (called an electrolyser), and the hydrogen part splits off from the oxygen. The oxygen can be released harmlessly or captured and sold, and we are left with the perfect fuel, hydrogen. This process generates zero carbon if powered by renewable energy, and has been given the term “green hydrogen”.
There is an alternative way to make hydrogen which is cheaper and very well understood, but it produces CO2 as a by-product. This process splits hydrogen out of natural gas, but also releases CO2 that needs to be captured and reinjected back into the caverns where the natural gas comes from, trapping it so it can’t float up into the atmosphere.
Carbon capture and reinjection is still an emerging technology and not practised on a big scale today. It does look manageable though, and we have promising results from the work we’re doing right now.
Most people today are familiar with electric cars, and legislation is likely to make them increasingly common in urban centres. There are no exhaust fumes, so no carbon, and the vehicles are becoming more accessible. But lengthy charging times become an issue on longer journeys, together with the often misquoted “range” which can be very restrictive.
There is a bigger issue for heavy transport. If electrified, a big truck needs to cart around seven tons of battery packs and it cannot afford to hang around recharging. The same is true for buses. Hydrogen offers an attractive alternative.
A hydrogen engine (known as a fuel cell) is the same size as a normal petrol or diesel one and takes the same amount of time to fuel up, so there is no waiting around and no range issue. In the home, a gas boiler could be replaced by a hydrogen boiler. You would hardly notice.
So, what does it take to make the hydrogen economy work? For it to be practical and effective?
Three things. It needs manufacturers to produce engines and boilers that run on the gas; it needs industry to make the hydrogen; and it needs hydrogen infrastructure in the form of filling stations and underground pipes like we have for natural gas.
Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes and the rest have many demonstrations of hydrogen engines happily driving around. We will have a hydrogen Ineos Grenadier car on test next year (alongside an electric version).
This piece of the jigsaw is the most advanced. The infrastructure, clearly critical, needs a government push on legislation and investment. The German government is ahead, with €9bn (£7.6bn) committed and over 200 filling stations operational.
UK authorities have yet to get out of the blocks but hopefully soon will. Britain has only a handful of hydrogen pumps today.
Finally, industry needs to invest in plants to produce hydrogen. Ineos is Europe’s largest operator of the electrolysis process and we have committed to €2bn of investment in the next 10 years, building muchneeded green hydrogen capacity.
The world has committed to hugely reducing its carbon emissions and hydrogen is unquestionably going to play a large part in accomplishing this goal.
‘Trump may have claimed it was “fake news”, but global warming is here to stay’