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National Gas pipeline switches to hydrogen in net-zero trial

The owner and operator of Britain’s gas transmission network has tested running pure hydrogen through its pipelines in a world first as it attempts to make the case for the lower-carbon fuel as an alternative to natural gas.

The £12 million FutureGrid project is being run by National Gas with funding from Ofgem, the energy regulator, and companies including Northern Gas Networks, which distributes gas across Yorkshire and the northeast, to look at how hydrogen can be safely integrated into the network.

The government has said it wants to reduce the UK’s reliance on natural gas in line with a target to reach net-zero goals. However, pipeline owners hope hydrogen production will be encouraged instead, as a replacement in fuelling heavy industry and eventually home heating, helping to secure the future of their networks.

National Gas operates the transmission lines that carry gas over long distances from the North Sea and import terminals to local distributors that supply homes and businesses, power stations and heavy industries.

FutureGrid is being run at a test facility at RAF Spadeadam, an air force base in Cumbria, where a small section of the 7,500-kilometre pipeline system has been recreated to test increasingly concentrated hydrogen blends. The project started with blends of up to 2 per cent, before reaching 100 per cent last month, in preparation for any potential conversion of a larger proportion of the network to hydrogen in the medium term.

The tests are being run amid plans within the European Union to allow for hydrogen blending of up to 2 per cent towards the end of 2025.

Without permission to accept more hydrogen through Britain’s transmission network, National Gas said it would need to build a deblending facility at its import terminal in Bacton, Norfolk, which it said could cost up to £600 million a year to operate.

“We need hydrogen to keep the lights on and British industries running as we transition to net zero,” Jon Butterworth, the chief executive of National Gas, said.

Achieving a 100 per cent hydrogen blend through the pipelines proved the network was “ready for the transition”, he said, as the company awaits confirmation from the government that the proportion of hydrogen in the network can be increased, up to an initial limit of 2 per cent.

“Without agreement, we face a costly process of deblending gas from the Continent as it reaches our shores,” Butterworth said.

The government is aiming to provide an update this year on when a decision may be made on a transmission-level hydrogen blending policy.

At the end of last year the government said it saw “potential strategic and economic value” in supporting the blending of up to 20 per cent hydrogen by volume into the local gas distribution networks.

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