The sale of new boilers that are only able to run on natural gas could face being banned by 2026 according to recent information published by the UK government.
The Government is currently consulting on plans to make sure that all new boilers are capable of running on hydrogen, or at least partly on hydrogen, instead of 100% gas.
Hydrogen does not produce carbon dioxide when burned and government ministers are hoping this alternative fuel for heating could be supplying up to 35pc of the UK’s energy consumption by 2050.
Government agencies are currently conducting tests to determine whether it hydrogen can be used safely and effectively to replace natural gas in UK homes.
On a new hydrogen strategy revealed last week, government officials have commented:
“We aim to consult later this year on the case for enabling, or requiring, new natural gas boilers to be easily convertible hydrogen use and be “hydrogen-ready’ by 2026.”
A potential complete ban on the sales of new natural gas-only boilers would effectively bring forward existing long-term plans to put an end to traditional boilers being installed in new-build homes by 2025.
A new direction for fuel production?
So far the production of hydrogen fuel in the UK is minimal. There are just a handful of startups in the business converting water and fossil fuels to hydrogen, but the government is encouraging suppliers to increase production and has launched a consultation on subsidies for producers.
A basic distinction is made between conventional hydrogen production based on fossil feedstocks, e.g. through steam reforming of natural gas, and renewable hydrogen production based on renewables such as bio-gen processes or electrolysis of water (H2O) with wind power, water power or solar energy.
Today, hydrogen is mainly produced by steam re-forming fossil fuels such as natural gas and some excess hydrogen is recovered as a by-product from various industrial processes. But even though hydrogen generated from fossil fuels has the advantage of zero emissions, the production chain still leaves a carbon footprint.
The long-term aim is to significantly increase the sustainable share in the hydrogen mix using renewable energy sources such as wind, water and biomass, while at present electrolysis of water using wind, water or solar power, and re-forming of biogas are viable alternatives that offer a zero-emission hydrogen energy cycle.
The carbon free challenge
Currently natural gas provides 74pc of the energy used for home and commercial heating and hot water, which produced about 85m tons of the carbon dioxide emitted in 2019.
The government is considering hydrogen as one option as an alternative to natural gas, along with heat pumps, which extract energy from the outside air and ground, though these also are not carbon neutral as they result in more consumption of electricity.
The use of hydrogen in domestic heating remains remains a hot topic of debate because they tend to be less fuel energy efficient and hydrogen has a corrosive effect on the infrastructure network – the pipes in other words.
The commercial reality
Boilers capable of multi-fuel use or pure hydrogen burning are yet in the commercial development state and work still needs to be done to set industry standards. Currently it is estimated around 1.6m boilers are replaced every year in the UK.
Carl Arntzen, chief executive of Worcestor Bosch, a company that makes heat pumps and boilers, has said:
“There is an air of urgency about these things, so the sooner the better. Supply chains can be scaled up within that sort of time frame.
“If the Government mandates hydrogen-ready boilers and then there is a hydrogen switch-over in an area, then we just need to change a couple of components on the hydrogen ready boiler which will take about 40 minutes, then that boiler is ready to fire 100pc hydrogen.”
Antony Green, hydrogen project director at National Grid, has said:
“I think it’s very good news the Government are planning to consult on it. It creates opportunity for us. Let’s establish hydrogen-ready boilers as the default, then as and when ready we can switch. It’s very akin to the digital TV switch-over.”