30% of the UK's natural gas could be replaced by hydrogen, cutting carbon emissions

Almost a third of the natural gas fuelling UK homes and businesses could be replaced by hydrogen, a carbon-free fuel, without requiring any changes to the nation's boilers and ovens, a pioneering study by Swansea University researchers has shown.

Over time the move could cut UK carbon dioxide emissions by up to 18 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.
Enriching natural gas with hydrogen is one way forward. 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 £600 million government-backed trial in the UK taking place this year.
Natural gas naturally contains a small quantity of hydrogen, although current UK legislation restricts the allowed proportion to 0.1 per cent.
The question the Swansea team investigated was how far they could increase the percentage of hydrogen in natural gas, before it became unsuitable as a fuel, for example because the flames became unstable.
The team, Dr Charles Dunnill and Dr Daniel Jones at the University's Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI), found:
  • An enrichment of around 30 per cent is possible, when various instability phenomena are taken into account
  • 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;
The research was published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Dr Charles Dunnill of the Energy Safety Research Institute at Swansea University said:
"Up to 30 per cent of the UK's gas supply can be replaced with hydrogen, without needing to modify people's appliances.
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."