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Hydrogen could easily replace 30 per cent of natural gas in the UK, research shows

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The UK could reduce its carbon emissions by replacing nearly a third of its natural gas with hydrogen fuel, according to a new study from Swansea University researchers.

A combination fuel consisting of up to 30 per cent hydrogen and the rest natural gas would be compatible with existing boilers and ovens they found.

Natural gas naturally contains a small quantity of hydrogen, although current UK legislation restricts the allowed proportion to 0.1 per cent.

Natural gas is used for cooking, heating and generating electricity. Domestic gas usage accounts for 9 per cent of UK emissions. In an effort to reduce annual carbon emissions, there is presently a concerted effort from researchers worldwide to offset our usage of natural gas.

Over time, the move could cut UK carbon dioxide emissions by up to 18 per cent.

Experiments have shown that modern-day gas appliances work safely and reliably with hydrogen-enriched natural gas as the fuel. It is already used in parts of Germany and the Netherlands, with a £600m government-backed trial in the UK taking place this year.

The researchers wanted to know how far they could increase the percentage of hydrogen in natural gas, before it became unsuitable as a fuel because the flames become unstable.

The team ultimately found that an enrichment of around 30 per cent is possible, when various instability phenomena are taken into account.

However, higher percentages make the fuel incompatible with domestic appliances, due to hydrogen’s relatively low energy content, its low density, and a high burning velocity.

30 per cent enrichment by hydrogen nevertheless equates to a potential reduction of up to 18 per cent in domestic carbon dioxide emissions.

“Up to 30 per cent of the UK’s gas supply can be replaced with hydrogen, without needing to modify people’s appliances,” said Dr Charles Dunnill of the Energy Safety Research Institute at Swansea University.

“As a low carbon domestic fuel, hydrogen-enriched natural gas can cut our greenhouse gas emissions, helping the UK meet its obligations under the 2016 Paris Climate Change Agreement.

“Hydrogen-enrichment can make a difference now. But it could also prove a valuable stepping-stone towards a future, pure hydrogen, zero carbon gas network.”

Last year, the Dutch physicist Professor Jo Hermans said that using hydrogen to fuel passenger aircraft deserves serious consideration as it could dramatically cut aviation industry emissions. 

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