Tech Radar: Hydrogen Key for Net Zero Future

Tech Radar: Hydrogen Key for Net Zero Future

The UK’s continuing energy crisis has so far seen gas prices soaring to record levels, a number of suppliers going bust and significant increases in typical household energy bills. However, what this crisis has also made quite clear is that we need an energy system that is sustainable and dependable enough to comfortably supply the nation with power.

Currently, the UK has a number of leading renewable energy initiatives – including some of the world’s largest offshore wind farms – but we are still some distance from being able to completely cut our use of fossil fuels. In addition, we will also need to produce and use more hydrogen energy if we want to reach our green goals – according to hydrogen technology firm Bramble Energy.

techradar. spoke with Dr Tom Mason, Bramble’s CEO and CTO, who offered his insights into how hydrogen can be instrumental in the UK reaching its Net Zero targets and how it could be the key to a clean and self-sufficient means of powering the country.

Tell us more about Bramble Energy and the work you’re doing with hydrogen fuel

TM: The Bramble Energy team has developed a new type of portable hydrogen fuel cell – the PCBFC™ – which can be created in vast amounts, is low cost and can be made in any size or shape required. Much like the production of green hydrogen, our fuel cells provide clean power, and when used, are emissions-free.

What’s stopping the mass roll out of hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen energy?

TM: Put simply, the current production systems are too costly and aren’t widely available, which is what Bramble is trying to help solve.

With our technology, we’re trying to enable hydrogen to be ubiquitous and one day we want our fuel cells in all forms of transport and as a replacement for generators, displacing diesel and ultimately supporting the transition to Net Zero.

However, the roll out of hydrogen fuel cells and power is also slower than it should be because the desire for it just isn’t there yet. On top of this, there’s a real lack of awareness that the tech is available. The use of hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles is a good example of this. You can buy the Toyota Mirai right now, but barely anybody has one in this country.

That said, we don’t have a very good infrastructure for hydrogen fuel stations compared to say in Japan, South Korea or Germany for instance, where there’s plenty of hydrogen fuel available for cars.

It’s also important to note that hydrogen fuel tech is ready to go, but for it to be mass produced it needs an economic change rather than a developmental one.

What might kickstart this economic change?

TM: I think the tipping point will be with the logistics industry, because hydrogen power is cheaper for moving masses over large distances, even when compared to electric batteries.

In the latter half of this decade, I expect the hydrogen infrastructure will change as transport firms will need to find cheaper and greener ways to move their fleets, meaning we’ll require more filling stations in the country to facilitate longer journeys.

You mentioned ‘Net Zero’, just how important will hydrogen be for achieving these targets?

TM: Hugely important. Hydrogen has the potential to make us self-sufficient with our energy, and better still, we have all the resources required in the UK for production. However, what needs to happen first is that we stop investing in new gas and start spending more on renewables.

So, is the current 2050 date realistic, even with hydrogen energy?

TM: Net Zero will be realised, but 2050 is unlikely.

It’s really challenging to decarbonise and many industries need to be doing more beyond current approaches like carbon offsetting. Also, it can’t just be the UK that switches to renewables, it has to be worldwide – and that’s going to be logistically demanding and won’t be cheap.

Unfortunately, a Net Zero world is more expensive than a fossil fuel one, but at the end of the day it’s a necessary one. We need synthetic fuels, but moreover we need everyone on board with it.

That said, a big positive is that consumer attitudes are changing for the better when it comes to going green and once there’s more awareness of the benefits of hydrogen energy, more people buy in and governments start to take notice.

How would the use of hydrogen help improve the energy markets?

TM: Beyond market stability, the beauty of using hydrogen energy is it stops price volatility – meaning we avoid issues with wholesale prices like the ones we’re experiencing right now.

It’s also very cost effective, and much like our fuel cells, very efficient, meaning energy for homes and businesses and fuel for our vehicles will become cheaper. Yes, there’s investment needed in the manufacturing of it, but these costs are nothing like the costs for fossil fuels.

Hydrogen can also be a steadying force for the markets as it can step in when you have to do things like turn wind farms off in high winds, rather than firing up coal plants. So, the sooner this happens at scale, the better it’ll be for consumers.

When might we start to see more hydrogen in our energy supply?

TM: It’s hard to say exactly as there’s a lot that needs to happen first, but I imagine as renewable density increases on the energy grid, the mix of renewables will also go up and more hydrogen will be used.

Similar to the increasing use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, it’ll probably happen in other places around the world before us, but once this does happen it’ll become more commonplace and the gas grid will be transitioned.

Households and businesses might even one day run purely on hydrogen – not only on our types of fuel cells, but others that provide heat. Before that though we really need more solar panels on our roofs and battery power in our properties.