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We are all aware of the increasing energy prices. We know renewable and clean energy is the future but there are of course challenges. Challenges in finding the right blend of sources, funding these sources and doing this in a financially and environmentally sustainable manner. There is no point generating alternative energy sources if they end up having more of a negative impact in terms of emissions and cost.

August 2021 saw the start of the UK’s hydrogen revolution according to the Business & Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – “This home grown clean energy source has the potential to transform the way we power our lives”.

Areiel Wolanow

19th April 2022

Founding leader of IBM’s financial services practice for East Africa, where he led the delivery of the machine-learning based credit scoring engine for Kenya’s mPesa mobile payments platform

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With the UK Government analysis suggesting that 20-35% of the UK’s energy consumption by 2050 (1) could be hydrogen-based, a significant amount of effort, energy and resource is being directed towards this. 

 

Hydrogen is the most abundant element and experts estimate is accounts for 90% of all atoms. It is extremely flammable and as a result is an ideal alternative fuel source which allows countries to generate their own energy, but it is costly.

The challenges are how to make it and make it viability as well as how to establish an infrastructure through which it can be transported and consumed.

Perhaps a more trivial, but interesting, challenge is to remember which type of hydrogen comes from which process as some are more clean than others. To date the types of hydrogen (determined by their production method) come in a myriad of colours, none of which are the same across the world. By way of an example (2):
The initial focus in building a hydrogen infrastructure is to concentrate on the UK’s industrial clusters (3) many of which are in coastal locations with important links to CO2 storage sites (disused oil & gas fields) and will align with major users from various industrial sectors.

It is believed that the transport network will be largely driven by electricity at the smaller end (cars and HGVs), albeit electricity produced from hydrogen, with hydrogen used as a fuel for aviation and shipping.

In terms of the UK, with the future of hydrogen and the associated infrastructure being formed on the larger scale, one needs to consider the remaining 50% of the UK, that is to say rural or smaller communities. More disparate in nature, this will always prove a challenge and this is why ultimately a diversity of fuels will be required.

However, there is still scope for some creative thinking about how one generates these smaller volumes.

With over 500 landfills currently operating, and many old ones, there is a significant amount of waste buried within the UK countryside. As well as containing a plethora of precious metals and materials, there is the potential to convert the methane from these landfills into hydrogen using the waste material as a fuel source to provide the steam to do this. Generating value and sustainability  from a longstanding problem.

An alternative solution might be generating hydrogen as a by-product of pyrolyzing (using heat in the absence of oxygen) biomass that creates a carbon sequestering biochar. This is a highly sustainable and renewable.
This is perhaps a little simplistic, both would generate hydrogen but not in massive volumes. This makes the economics marginal but this in turn requires innovative funding and business models to help project the technologies through to their broader adoption.

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-government-launches-plan-for-a-world-leading-hydrogen-economy

https://www.nationalgrid.com/stories/energy-explained/hydrogen-colour-spectrum

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1011283/UK-Hydrogen-Strategy_web.pdf

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