Making hydrogen more cost efficient

Repurposing of infrastructure in the North West – Making hydrogen more cost efficient 

For large scale hydrogen adoption, the UK would require large scale production, storage and transport. To implement this decarbonisation strategy would require significant investment and supporting infrastructure. However, by repurposing existing assets in new, innovative ways to support an end-to-end hydrogen lifecycle, offers a cost efficient, achievable route.

As shown in the ‘Liverpool-Manchester Hydrogen Cluster’ and Hynet projects, the North West of England has many geographical strengths as a hub for hydrogen production, transportation and storage. This is supported by the existing infrastructure and industrial assets in the North West (NW), which could be repurposed to help deliver a large-scale hydrogen economy. The following strengths and natural resources of the NW region can offer a cost-efficient hydrogen pathway:

  • The NW is home to large offshore windfarms such as Barrow, Walney and West of Duddon Sands. It has been shown that offshore turbines generate about 35-50% of the time[1], but some of these generation periods are constrained. Wind generation combined with an electrolysis plant to produce hydrogen could offer higher overall efficiency and useful energy in the form of hydrogen (for transport, heat etc.)
  • Natural gas is currently stored in the Cheshire salt caverns, for example at Storengy’s Stublach site. If these caverns were to be repurposed they could be used as an economical and safe means of bulk hydrogen storage. A recent study by Atkins, has shown the capability of Cheshire caverns to be used as a H2 energy store for intermittent 1GWe peaking operation (when combined with the latest H2-ready gas turbines).
  • As part of the 30:30 Iron Mains project, the UK is upgrading all metallic mains piping within 30m of premises to Polyethene piping by 2030. This was in response to a HSE requirement, but inadvertently, the upgraded pipelines may also be suitable for hydrogen service, which would futureproof the gas pipe network.
  • In the North West, projects within Powerhouse energy and Inovyn (Runcorn chemical plant) are already producing hydrogen either though waste feedstocks or as a by-product. Demonstrator projects in low carbon transport or heat are needed in the region to benefit from these opportunities.
  • The recent announcement by Alstom to convert a fleet of electric trains to Hydrogen in the UK, by 2022, offers an opportunity to support this project. This is reinforced further, as the planned rail conversion are at Alstoms facility at Widnes, near Liverpool. The NW could be the testbed for a network of supporting H2 rail infrastructure (e.g. H2 refuelling stations) that would later be rolled out across the UK.
  • The Clean Growth Strategy (2017) set out a new revitalised Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) approach in the UK. This recognises the potential of CCUS to aid decarbonisation across power, industry, and heat. The integration of CCUS technologies with hydrogen is key to offering hydrogen at the lowest cost. For instance, the H21 Leeds project concluded that H2 is most economically produced via Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) with CCS fitted. The recent consenting for new large Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plants in the NW, combined with the industrial clusters, means SMR with CCS is an extremely credible solution for large scale hydrogen production.
  • Moreover, it is estimated that the Liverpool oil and gas fields have the potential capacity to store 130 million tonnes of CO2 with additional fields nearby. Heat produced through Steam Methane Reforming can also be distributed in local heat generation networks; further optimising the process.
  • Liverpool Port is undergoing the Liverpool 2 upgrade allowing deep water container ships to berth. This would allow the world’s largest vessels to enter the port, increasing shipping trade and could allow the transport of hydrogen and CO2 .

Overall the North West’s diverse history, current infrastructure and skilled workforce make it a strong choice for future hydrogen investment which could create a sustainable system to supply the vast energy demand of the region.

[1] Based on UK offshore wind capacity factors article, provided by, viewed Jan 2018.