Swansea University scientists suggest that almost a third of the natural gas fueling UK homes and businesses could be replaced by hydrogen, a carbon free fuel, without requiring any changes to the nation’s boilers and ovens.

Hydrogen as a gas (H2), mixed with methane (CH4), results in Hydrogen-Enriched Natural Gas (HENG) which would help cut carbon emissions. Image Credit: Swansea University . Click image for the largest view.

The point is to cut back on carbon emissions. Over time such a move could cut UK carbon dioxide emissions by up to 18%.

The research paper has been published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Natural gas is used for cooking, heating and generating electricity. UK domestic gas usage accounts for 9% 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. 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 £600m 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%.

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% 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% enrichment by hydrogen nevertheless equates to a potential reduction of up to 18% in domestic carbon dioxide emissions.

Dr. Charles Dunnill of the Energy Safety Research Institute at Swansea University said, “Up to 30% 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.”

These sorts of ideas are almost alarming. There are sound reasons that the natural gas supply has a limit of free hydrogen content. Dunnill, a safety guy, surely knows the effect that hydrogen has on other materials. Those risks and dangers have been mollified a bit, but are far from safe over time.

When we see a safety report about the materials used, like black pipe, assorted polymers, copper, aluminum, and brass your humble writer might not be so alarmed. Hydrogen gets away , where natural gas and propane stay in the lines. Remember, hydrogen burns really really fast. It might not be an explosive, but it acts like one. The military uses chemicals in the same zone for fuel air bombs. All right – it is alarming.


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