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Towards a Hydrogen Economy: Innovating for Change

By Richard Halsey, Innovation Director at Energy Systems Catapult

Foresight Guest Blog



In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to legally commit to Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Meeting such a landmark target in just 27 years’ time will require an unprecedented level of innovation across the economy. This means innovating not just in new low carbon technologies, but in new ways of deploying existing technologies, new business models, new consumer offerings, and, crucially, new policy, regulation, and market design.


This is a bold new horizon for the UK. For the first time in 30 years, we must create an entirely new energy sector.


Importance of hydrogen


In March 2020, Energy Systems Catapult released the Innovating to Net Zero report which modelled 100s of potential pathways to 2050 - ramping up or down different technologies and behaviour changes – to understand the combinations, interactions and trade-offs of competing decarbonisation approaches. The report noted the importance of hydrogen as a valuable energy vector on the path to decarbonising some of the most challenging sectors of the economy including industry and transportation.


To deliver an energy future that incorporates hydrogen into the mix, we cannot work in sectoral silos. We must work together to face head-on the challenges to deployment and embrace the opportunities presented by hydrogen.


That is why, the Catapult Network, working with Innovate UK, government departments, and other partners has established the Hydrogen Innovation Initiative (HII) to support hydrogen innovation across production, distribution, and application. Together the Catapult Network and its partners will accelerate translational research to grow the hydrogen economy and the critical role it will play in delivering Net Zero.


Innovation in transportation


Transport is the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gas emissions, producing 24% of the UK’s total emissions in 2020 (406 MtCO2e)[1]. If the UK wants to achieve its goal of Net Zero emissions by 2050, it must tackle transportation emissions as a matter of urgency. Hydrogen has an important role to play in this journey.


As part of our work alongside the Advanced Propulsion Centre UK (APC) and the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), we explored different pathways for reducing freight emissions with a specific focus on Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs). Through a series of workshops, we sought to better understand how and why operators may move to alternative fuel sources, such as hydrogen, across their vehicle fleets.


The coming years require transport authorities to assess how they can use policy decisions to support freight operators in their bid to transition to hydrogen and ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place.


Hydrogen’s importance is not confined to road transportation. The Port of Aberdeen is carrying out its ‘Port Zero’ feasibility study which is part of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition Round 2 (CMDC2). The study is being delivered in partnership with Energy Systems Catapult, Connected Places Catapult and Buro Happold, and aligns with the emissions reduction goals published in the Department for Transport’s Clean Maritime Plan.


The shipping study will develop a detailed project plan for the world’s first hydrogen-powered zero-emission crossing demonstration from Port of Aberdeen to Norway in 2024, which is an economically important potential green shipping corridor route.


Unleash the hydrogen economy


The commercial opportunity for companies helping to deliver Net Zero is huge. If we bring together investment, innovation, and insight from across multiple sectors, we can drive forward a coordinated effort to decarbonise and transform the UK’s energy sector.

Two-hundred years ago, hydrogen powered the first internal combustion engines. Two centuries on, we’re now imagining a transportation sector of the future that could also powered by hydrogen. We may well have come full circle.


Hear more from Richard Halsey @ Foresight Hydrogen Live 2023 in Liverpool on Feb 8+9.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-and-environment-statistics-2022/transport-and-environment-statistics-2022#:~:text=transport%20is%20the%20largest%20emitting,each%20local%20authority%20in%202020

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