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Hydrogen gas grid for Leeds moves a step closer

April 30, 2017

By Paul Homewood




Tallbloke carries this story from Utility Week.

According to the report, this research project being funded by the Network Innovation Allowance, which the National Grid tell us is:

an Ofgem incentive for funding smaller innovation Projects that can deliver benefits to customers.

In other words, the good old taxpayer is shelling out.

Given that the cost of converting the lucky 320,000 householders of Leeds to hydrogen is estimated to be £2bn, I don’t quite work out how OFGEM can claim that it can “deliver benefits to customers.”

  1. April 30, 2017 10:57 am

    No doubt the Law of Unintended Consequences will kick in like it does with all things Green. What could possibly go wrong with a colourless, odourless, highly explosive and lightest element in the Periodic Table being piped into people’s homes?

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      April 30, 2017 1:11 pm

      Everything, maybe?

  2. RoyHartwell permalink
    April 30, 2017 11:00 am

    Having used hydrogen in my past lab career and remembering the safety implications (possible because of the systems in place in the lab) I wouldn’t go within a mile of houses using it !

  3. Max Sawyer permalink
    April 30, 2017 11:25 am

    I’m with Roy Hartwell – i used to demonstrate the explosive nature of Hydrogen to my Chemistry classes. Even a small plastic bottle of a Hydrogen/air mixture produces quite an impressive bang when ignited! Although, to be fair, a methane (ie natural gas)/air mixture is quite impressive as well.

  4. Max Sawyer permalink
    April 30, 2017 11:26 am

    I would add that the problem with Hydrogen is the smallness of its molecules, which allows it to diffuse through materials impermeable to other gases.

  5. Ian permalink
    April 30, 2017 11:38 am

    The risks of using hydrogen have been highlighted above. What about the production cost of hydrogen v/v natural gas?

  6. Max Sawyer permalink
    April 30, 2017 11:45 am

    Not a problem, Ian – like all this virtue-signalling pointless “greenery” it will be funded by taxpayers’ money, regarded by government as a bottomless pit.

  7. HorshamBren permalink
    April 30, 2017 11:55 am

    You might also want to listen to the feature on district heating schemes on BBC 5 Live Investigates this morning (although there’s no reference to it in the blurb on the website, even though it took up the first half of the programme)

    District heating schemes have Green pawprints all over them and are being actively encouraged by the Government

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      May 1, 2017 1:33 pm

      This must be a continuation of a R4 prog the other day. They interviewed a chap who complained bitterly that since his block of flats had been converted to CHP his bills had risen 10%. Overall, I’d say the overall tone of the R4 prog was only just pro-CHP.

  8. Joe Public permalink
    April 30, 2017 12:08 pm

    Factoid of the day:

    It was a hydrogen explosion which blew the roof off Fukushima’s containment vessels.

  9. bob sykes permalink
    April 30, 2017 12:54 pm

    Doesn’t the UK have any engineers anymore. The main problem with hydrogen pipelines is embrittlement of the steel:

    One should expect pipeline failures once they have been carrying hydrogen for a while.

    • Joe Public permalink
      April 30, 2017 1:34 pm

      Also, at a stroke, the heat-carrying capacity of the entire transmission & distribution grid, all storage capacities (including line-pack), measurement capacity of all meters AND customers’ own pipework is reduced by over ⅔rds.

      Calorific values:
      Nat gas ~40MJ/m^3
      Hydrogen ~ 12.7MJ/m^3

    • Robert Christopher permalink
      April 30, 2017 4:23 pm

      “Doesn’t the UK have any engineers anymore.”
      Yes: social engineers. They do the ‘Big Picture’ planning for the community organisers.

      “… embrittlement of the steel”
      What should be used instead of steel, or what should be coated on the inside of steel tubes, to contain the hydrogen gas?
      Does anyone know what will be used for pipes in this Leeds experiment?
      Have any tests been done to improve safety?
      Will emergency services be required to have different working practices?
      Does anyone care?

      “The conversion strategy for the Leeds City area included proposals to supply the local grid with low-carbon hydrogen produced at four steam methane reformers on Teesside utilising carbon capture and storage.”
      Where will this captured carbon dioxide be stored?
      Will it be liquefied and, if so, what the cost will be?

      “Aims include developing and trialling hydrogen-fuelled appliances”
      So they are planning, developing and trialing everything else, but have yet to develop and trial hydrogen-fuelled appliances?

      “The implications of conversion for the gas grid itself are very minor according to NGN head of energy futures Dan Sadler. Some reinforcement work would be required, he told Network, but this would not exceed the usual investment made by gas distributors in reinforcement annually.”
      There speaks an expert! Do they know of what materials their distribution pipes are made, or how well their valves and joints will be with Hydrogen?

      “Leeds City Council is enthusiastic about the prospect. … The project has massive potential to make a significant dent in the city’s environmental performance, as well as opening up a wealth of opportunities for innovation, manufacturing and low carbon transport. Working closely with Northern Gas Networks and our partners, we’re keen to develop this exciting concept further”.
      Oh dear!

      • Robert Christopher permalink
        April 30, 2017 4:27 pm

        I forgot! Will the residents of Leeds have any choice?

        I can see the Northern Power House will have a ‘good send off’!

    • Gerry, England permalink
      April 30, 2017 9:37 pm

      Hydrogen embrittlement is caused by heat in a hydrogen environment which is why its control during welding processes is so important. Once fabricated hydrogen embrittlement is not likely to occur unless the metal is heated to the levels achieved during welding.

  10. NOEngineer permalink
    April 30, 2017 1:41 pm

    Hydrogen is also likely to spontaneously ignite when leaked to the atmosphere, with an invisible flame. Methane, on the other hand, requires a spark or flame to overcome its ignition energy. So, hydrogen is less likely to accumulate and cause an explosion (though it can certainly happen), but more likely to cause a fire. In industrial settings where hydrogen is a raw material, infrared scanning is used to detect fires since they can’t be seen in daylight unless the pipe coating or insulation starts to burn.

    Methane is also an odorless gas, but methane (gas) suppliers to pipelines that feed any occupied buildings are required by most jurisdictions to add the odorant (mercaptan) with which we are all familiar. If that were not added, then gas leaks would go undetected and explosions would be more common. I would assume that hydrogen pipelines feeding occupied buildings will also be required to add odorant, though it might be less effective due the spontaneous ignition issue.

    Storage of hydrogen in liquid form is impractical at low pressures, while methane can be liquefied and stored in this much more dense form in large low-pressure tanks to allow peak shaving, which has been done for years by the natural gas industry.

    Also, CO2 is plant food.

  11. Political Sceptic permalink
    April 30, 2017 2:13 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong…hydrogen has to made with copious inputs of electrical energy, then stored, then piped, then combined with a reaction to generate thermal energy. And the cost compared to funneling electrical energy over established lines direct to the user and converting to thermal energy in comparison is ????

    • April 30, 2017 4:01 pm

      If there was surplus wind/solar electrcity to make hydrogen and there were sufficient storage tanks to hold enough hydrogen for a rainy not windy day it might make sense.

  12. Tim Crome permalink
    April 30, 2017 2:43 pm

    If this is a “smaller” innovation project then I wonder what the bigger ones will look like!

  13. April 30, 2017 2:56 pm

    It’s difficult to understand how such a bat-brained project can generate value. Rather it seems to be wasting a great deal of value.

    Hydrogen is manufactured from natural gas and steam. The steam is generated in natural gas or coal boilers. Therefore, hydrogen will always be more costly than natural gas.

    Also, due to its low molecular weight and size, hydrogen is notoriously leaky, and fundamentally more unsafe than natural gas, especially among general populations.

    And I like hydrogen.

  14. April 30, 2017 3:55 pm

    Another fine example of Government in action. They understand nothing technological but they know other how to waste £billions of other people’s money on stupid energy projects.

  15. Barry Capsey permalink
    April 30, 2017 3:56 pm

    Lunacy attracted by two £BILLIONS. BOOOOOM!!

  16. BLACK PEARL permalink
    April 30, 2017 4:00 pm

    Are they well insured ?
    Who will be liable when peoples property gets the Hindenburg affect ?

  17. April 30, 2017 5:32 pm

    Coal gas as used in the uk was

    hydrogen 50%
    methane 35%
    carbon monoxide 10%
    ethylene 5%

    So why didn’t we have the hydrogen problems mentioned above in the good old days?
    Surely it can’t have been due to the 50% dilution?
    Perhaps they intend to make synthetic coal gas?
    They could go even father and make coal gas from coal!
    Or better still make coal gas from coal and then convert it to 100% H2 – that would be really green!

  18. April 30, 2017 5:33 pm

    Stunningly bad idea. Most commercial hydorgen is produced be steam reformation of natural gas, which produces the same CO2 as burning natural gas. So that doesn’t work. The commercial energy efficiency of electrolysis is ~75%. So you start from an energy hole. Hydogen leaks, a safety issue. Hydrogen embrittles, an infrastructure lifetime issue. Hydrogen has less than 1/3 the volumetric energy density of natural gas, a capacity issue.
    Essay hydrogen hype covers all this, mainly from the perspective of hydrogen replacing gasoline in cars. Doesnt work there either, even if fuel cells were practical in that outdoor application. A Toyota Prius would produce less CO2 with better mileage and no need for hydrogen infrastructure. Essay Hydrogen Hype in ebook Blowing Smoke does the calculations.

  19. Gamecock permalink
    April 30, 2017 6:36 pm

    ‘Hydrogen gas grid for Leeds moves a step closer’

    You can’t get closer to the impossible.

  20. HotScot permalink
    April 30, 2017 7:12 pm

    So much like the rest of the country being punished because diesel cars cause pollution in cities, we are all expected to pay for Leeds going hydrogen.

    Is it just me, or are our cities too important to fail, much like our banks?

  21. April 30, 2017 7:35 pm

    Any chance of naming and shaming the proponents of this scheme?

  22. April 30, 2017 7:52 pm

    Don’t worry, this is such an impractical idea that it can not possibly happen. Unfortunately though, these people are obviously so stupid and ignorant that they may well spend a great deal of money trying first. Optimistically though, perhaps they’ll try to locate an economically and ecologically feasible source of hydrogen first and that will stop them in their tracks before they’ve gone too far.

  23. Graeme No.3 permalink
    April 30, 2017 8:33 pm

    Since they are determined to spend money I suggest they replace all the pipes with larger ones so the volume problem is solved. The pipes should be lined with polyvinyl alcohol which from memory has the lowest transmission of gas of any. Since the pva is water soluble it will be necessary to laminate it front and back with something that is impermeable to water. Something similar is used in those 1,2,4 litre cartons of wine wih which you may be familiar (very common in Australia and occasionally may even contain wine worth drinking).
    To prevent embrittlement a layer of gold inside the pipe – why not? It adds to the cost which seems the second aim of this idea; the main aim being to provide comfortable employment for the perpetrators for a few years.
    Has anyone thought that the election campaign is the ideal time to ask the various candidates questions like “why do you want to blow up houses in Leeds?”

  24. Chris Martin permalink
    April 30, 2017 8:34 pm

    As a resident of Leeds I read this with horror – not least because our local politicians are stupid enough to go along with the idea!

  25. Gerry, England permalink
    April 30, 2017 9:42 pm

    Interesting. As an engineer familiar with the welding process as I commented above, and with pressure vessels where we tested for leaks in joints with……..hydrogen! Why? Because it would find its way through the smallest gap. And then when working in explosive atmospheres there was one gas that for flameproof enclosures would give the highest pressure when ignited so that we could then do a 1.5 times pressure test for structural integrity. That gas was…..hydrogen!

  26. mwhite permalink
    May 1, 2017 9:01 am

    £2,000,000,000 to pump water vapour into the atmosphere!

  27. Chris, Leeds permalink
    May 1, 2017 9:35 am

    On my maths if the Leeds project is to cost £2 billion, the total cost for the whole of the UK (based on 25 million homes) would be close to £160 billion! – roughly £6,250 per household!

    • Gerry, England permalink
      May 1, 2017 12:38 pm

      Their plans will bankrupt the economy if they all happen but I think there will come a point where reality finally hits home. Trouble is that with our politicians inhabiting a parallel universe it will take some time.

  28. Max Sawyer permalink
    May 1, 2017 12:01 pm

    As with all this “greenery”, only the end-user outcome appears in the calculations. All the financial, energy, environmental, maintenance and other costs leading to that point are conveniently ignored.

  29. Mike Higton permalink
    May 3, 2017 3:39 pm

    The safety issues are manageable. As an earlier poster said, coal (town) gas was 50% hydrogen and we lived with that for decades. There are hydrogen pipelines running across northern France and between the big petrochem complexes in Holland which have not had any reported problems, as far as I am aware.
    This hare-brained scheme should be killed by its appalling economics and its dependence on carbon capture technology which is far from established, plus – of course – the underlying falsehood that we need to “de-carbonise”.

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