Hydrogen rightly courts all of the attention today when we talk about the clean energies transition and green industrial revolutions. It’s the fast-emerging darling of the energy sector, it’s enjoyed an incredible year in terms of momentum, and I do firmly believe it’s about as close to a silver bullet in underpinning that transition as we can envisage.
But the point is, that there is of course no single silver bullet to the challenges we face in sustainability and tackling climate change. There is no panacea for overhauling an unsustainable energy sector of today. We will need a diverse energy mix that harnesses wind and solar power – both of which will enable truly green hydrogen – together with alternative fuels such as biomethane and renewable synthetic natural gas.
We’ll also need to get a firmer grasp of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), which is why it was refreshing to see CCUS set out as a prominent part of the UK Government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution earlier this week.
There are already questions over the extent or ambition of the plan and just how far it goes, and I myself am posing some of them, but it’s a significant step in the right direction at least. And when it comes to CCUS, this is clearly a very practical strand of the so-called green industrial revolution; not only is it helping to abate the release of such volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2), it also embodies a circular economies business model that makes industrial and economic sense.
Indeed, the Govt.’s plan affirmed its believe that CCUS ‘will be an exciting new industry to capture the carbon we continue to emit and revitalise the birthplaces of the first Industrial Revolution’.
Its ambition is to capture 10 Mt of CO2 per year by 2030, the equivalent of four million cars’ worth of annual emissions, and it will invest up to £1bn to support the establishment of CCUS in four regional industrial clusters. Two of these clusters will be established by the mid 2020s; all four are expected to be in place by 2030.
Though cheaply named ‘SuperPlaces’ it’s important to note that these clusters will be developed alongside hydrogen – not only contributing to low carbon hydrogen production, but further reinforcing the circular economies model. Further details of a revenue mechanism to bring through private sector investment into these industrial carbon capture and hydrogen projects – and the business models to support – are set to be revealed next year.
What we’ll also see next year, therefore, is the start of a real circular economic approach to our energy system in the UK as it ‘builds back better’ and greener. It’s a holistic approach, and a holistic vision was set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his foreword to the plan, enthusing, “Imagine how our Green Industrial Revolution could transform life across our United Kingdom. You cook your breakfast using hydrogen power before getting in your electric car, having charged it overnight from batteries made in the Midlands. Around you the air is cleaner, and the trucks and trains, ships and planes are running on hydrogen or a synthetic fuel.”
“British towns and regions – Teesside, Port Talbot, Merseyside and Mansfield – have become synonymous with green technology and the jobs they bring. This is where Britain’s ability to make hydrogen and capture carbon pioneered the decarbonisation of transport, industry and power.”
At the forefront of pioneering this effort in decarbonisation will be the value chain of our industry, with its inherent knowledge and expertise in the fields of both carbon and hydrogen and the synergies between the two. Technologists and innovators, those with the knowledge of these molecules, industries and end-user sectors, could have a significant role to play that is lucrative in its reward of both pride and revenue.
As an industry, we also need to play an active role in encouraging the use or ‘U’ element of the CCUS process. This very circular approach to managing our carbon footprint and heading towards net zero will be important to generating new revenue streams that improve the fiscal viability of a green revolution, as well as plugging supply chain gaps. Let’s utilise that CO2 rather than sequester it into the floor of the North Sea, and let’s prosper while we do so.