It’s a classic tale of attraction, separation and the struggle to be reunited. Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending. Progressive Energy’s Tommy Isaac, Principal Engineer on the HyDeploy project, takes up the story…..
On Wednesday October 30th 2019 at precisely 1:15 pm, Keele University became the first gas network in the UK to transport hydrogen since the conversion from town gas was completed in 1977. Although this small physical step of blending was only at 2 vol% and supplied to 100 homes and 30 university buildings, it represented a giant conceptual leap in the decarbonisation of the largest energy source in the UK economy – our natural gas consumption.
Once this first molecule entered the gas network, a rigorous and measured commissioning process proceeded to be enacted to allow the blend level to be sanctioned for increase from the initial 2 vol% to the full 20 vol%. The contently combusted hydrogen blends within the appliances at Keele University have been reducing the carbon emissions of heating and cooking without any disruption to customer experience.
The hydrogen begins life as a simple water molecule. This molecule is pressurised and enters a chamber within an electrolyser to have an electric current applied to it. This current breaks down the water molecule into its constituent parts of hydrogen and oxygen. Following this forced separation of two molecules, the two gases amicably go their separate ways, only to rekindle their combustive relationship safely within an appliance to reform water and provide useful heat without emitting carbon dioxide. The journey from separation to reunion is one which involves the hydrogen being blended into the natural gas supply at Keele University via the UK’s first hydrogen grid entry unit. The grid entry unit provides the ability to maintain a constant blend level across a highly variable gas demand from the network.
Once safely blended into the natural gas, the lovesick hydrogen molecule passes into the low-pressure network supplying all appliances on the blended network, where the hydrogen is supplied to all forms of appliances – from domestic boilers, fires and cookers through to commercial catering equipment and commercial boilers. Once this long journey is complete and the hydrogen blend enters an appliance it is finally reunited with its betrothed oxygen to safely reform into a single, indistinguishable water molecule.
To ensure this journey is safely monitored and managed a full suite of testing is undertaken. Across the gas network, sampling is undertaken to ensure all parts of the network experience a consistent blend level, as well as specialised rhinology testing (smell tests) to ensure the blends retain the distinctive natural gas smell to aid leak detection. At the point of use, regular rounds of appliance and pipework testing have been completed, using a bespoke research facility, to confirm the blended operation is safe
From small acorns, oak trees grow. From this first brave molecule on the fateful day in October 2019, the UK is on course to introduce hydrogen across the UK gas network, initially at 20% with the ultimate ambition of full conversion – which is a fundamental requirement to allow the UK to meet its net-zero carbon target by 2050. The HyDeploy programme is critical to this energy revolution, in enabling the first steps of blending to be taken within the UK gas network and kickstarting the hydrogen conversion journey.
To find out more about the HyDeploy project, please join us for our webinar on 20 May at 10.30am. You can book your place here