Hydrogen and alternative energy vectors

Generation, storage and utilisation of synthetic chemical energy carriers and synthetic fuels (e.g. hydrogen), including the materials and devices used for their generation and storage and any socio-economic and environmental issues related to these technologies.

We aim to focus on incorporating low carbon hydrogen and other energy vectors into energy systems, reflecting the Energy theme priority of systems integration and decarbonisation. Considering the current challenges within the Energy sector and the Government’s target to reduce emissions to zero by 2050, hydrogen has the potential to play a key role in contributing to broad decarbonisation. Within the Research Area, we would like to see:

  • Particular focus on hydrogen production at scale, incorporating hydrogen into current infrastructures and linking hydrogen to renewables and whole energy systems
  • Work carried out to understand the impact of hydrogen’s incorporation into the gas grid, from its use in gas turbines to its transmission via the grid both as a pure gas and as an addition to natural gas
  • Steps towards the application of clean hydrogen technologies in transport (either through fuel cells or as a direct fuel), as an industrial feedstock, and as a fuel for heating (in the home and in industry).
  • Strengthened links to the social sciences communities to understand the sociotechnical challenges with regard to new hydrogen technologies
  • Development of alternative vectors to be incorporated into the energy system, for example ammonia

Hydrogen and other chemical energy stores have typically been excluded from calls for proposals in Energy Storage, however, future calls in that area will also include systems which focus on the chemical means to store energy.

We want to ensure that the UK has a ready supply of trained specialists who understand hydrogen generation, transmission, storage and use, whether as part of the gas grid or in more specific applications.

The strategic direction of this Research Area depends strongly on the direction that Government and industry take in terms of policy and national infrastructure. (Evidence sources 1,2,4) It is important that the community is responsive to the needs of this evolving system, and equally important that voices within fundamental research contribute to the decision-making processes.

Highlights:

Hydrogen has substantial potential as an energy carrier and a store of energy in the UK energy system. The majority of our current hydrogen is generated from steam methane reforming, using fossil-fuel derived methane. While this natural gas is lower in emissions than oil and coal, the hydrogen produced is still linked to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Moreover, although this method of hydrogen generation can be coupled with carbon capture and storage to lower the CO2 released to the atmosphere, the ultimate long-term goal is to be able to produce carbon-neutral hydrogen by electrolysis or thermal cracking at a large scale using renewable energy. (Evidence sources 3,5) Progress in new hydrogen technologies has been slower than in other areas of energy technologies and if Government targets are to be reached, there needs to be strengthened policy alongside accelerated new technology development, including large scale production of green hydrogen, to achieve this. (Evidence sources 7, 8,9,10,)

The UK has strengths in very specific areas of Hydrogen and Alternative Energy Vectors (e.g. storage and safety), in combination with a strong gas infrastructure. There is also a strong electrochemistry community to work on the challenges of electrolytic hydrogen production, while the underpinning technology has a lot in common with fuel cells and redox-flow batteries, ideal for transport applications.

Hydrogen and Alternative Energy Vectors is seen as part of a group of Research Areas which share a pool of electrochemical researchers (e.g. Energy Storage, Fuel Cell Technology, Materials for Energy Applications, and Electrochemical Sciences). Many researchers in one area will have interests in one or more of the others and can move from one to another relatively easily. (Evidence source 6)

This research area will principally contribute to the following Ambitions in the Resilient and Productive nation outcomes:

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

An energy system based primarily on or incorporating hydrogen or other synthetic fuels generated from locally produced renewable electricity would allow secure domestic energy production for industrial, domestic and automotive needs. The efficiency of the system will entirely depend on the efficiency of the process generating the fuel, but these systems are very likely to perform well for long-term storage or long-range transmission.

R2: Ensuring a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

Very similar to the way that current stores of fossil fuels contribute to the reliability of our energy network, stores of hydrogen or synthetic fuels can be used to control production of energy in response to demand.

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

This research area offers the possibility of a low/zero-carbon version of our current chemical-based energy system if green hydrogen can be produced at scale. The potential environmental benefits of fuel cells depend greatly on a low/zero-carbon fuel source powering them.

P2: Ensure affordable solutions for national needs

Hydrogen (or other synthetic fuels) would require a large initial investment in infrastructure, but could solve a number of problems posed by decarbonising the energy system with just one set of compatible technologies.7 At smaller scales, they can solve the problem of interseasonal or annual energy storage.

  1. Committee on Climate Change, The Fifth Carbon Budget (PDF), (2015).
  2. Royal Academy of Engineering, A Critical Time for UK Energy Policy (PDF), (2015).
  3. Optoelectronics Industry and Technology Development Association (OITDA), Annual Technical Report (PDF) 2014, (2015).
  4. Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group (LCICG), Hydrogen for Transport Summary Report (PDF), (2014).
  5. I. Cerri, F. Lefebvre-Jourd, P. Holtappels, K. Honegger, T. Stubos and P. Millet, (2012), Scientific Assessment in Support of the Materials Roadmap Enabling Low Carbon Energy Technologies: Hydrogen and Fuel Cells (PDF)
  6. Publications Office of the European Union (EUR; No.25293 EN).
  7. Committee on Climate Change, Net Zero: The UK’s Contribution to Stop Global Warming, (2019)
  8. Department for Transport, The Road to Zero, (2018)
  9. HM Government, The Clean Growth Strategy, (2017)
  10. Supergen reviews, event attendance and conversations with relevant bodies.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
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EPSRC support by research area in Hydrogen and alternative energy vectors (GoW)
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Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Dr Katharine Dunn
Job title: Senior Portfolio Manager
Department: Energy
Organisation: Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council
Telephone: 01793 444297