Bio-hydrogen: enabling the decarbonisation of the UK’s transport sector

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Richard Spires
Director of Technology Development

As momentum builds around the potential and versatility of hydrogen, much of the hype has been focused on cleaning up conventional production from hydrocarbon feedstock or developing electrolysis technology for water feedstock. An alternative is creating clean hydrogen from a bio-feedstock. Wood’s Director of Technology Richard Spires, shares the innovative work his team are leading with industry and academia on bio-hydrogen.

According to the World Meteorological Organization’s annual greenhouse gas bulletin, the impact on carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations from pandemic-related economic disruptions is no bigger than the normal year-to-year fluctuations from natural ocean or plant cycles.

Transport and domestic heating accounts for more than half of the UK’s CO2 emissions and this will continue to rise if we don’t act now. If we are really serious about achieving net-zero targets in the next 25 to 30 years, then developing sustainable alternatives is of paramount importance. On its own, UK transport is responsible for 33% of UK emissions.

Bio-hydrogen infographic

As a clean alternative to fossil fuels, hydrogen can play a significant role in the global energy transition. Unlike traditional fuels, burning hydrogen produces no carbon dioxide with water being the main combustion product. Also being eco-friendly, it could power our future needs while helping to stop climate change.

Innovate UK recently awarded Advanced Biofuel Solutions Ltd (ABSL), University College London (UCL) and Wood a £250,000 grant to design a production line that generates high purity bio-hydrogen to meet the demand for fuel cell electric vehicles.

This project aims to develop a new source of hydrogen to help give transport providers in both public and private sectors the confidence to adopt this important new fuel.

Just imagine it, a transport system that truly is CO2-emissions free, and through our work in bio-hydrogen, we can make this a reality.

A portion of waste feedstock processed at ABSL's Swindon facility will be converted into bio-hydrogen. The process will operate in parallel with ABSL’s bio-substitute natural gas (bioSNG) process which employs our own patented methanation technology VESTA.

We expect that the bio-hydrogen generated by this method will be cost comparable or cheaper than green hydrogen produced via electrolysis using renewable electricity.

By demonstrating that affordable and innovative technologies can deliver sustainable hydrogen for fuel cell electric vehicles, it will show that bio-hydrogen – purified, compressed and loaded into tankers for transportation to hydrogen filling stations – can generate negative greenhouse gas emissions when combined with carbon capture technology.

As the hydrogen sector grows, finding the right production solution to achieving carbon reduction and energy demand is critical in realising the potential. This will require a number of different solutions and technologies to achieve. Collaboration and innovation will be key to aid in accelerating the UK’s efforts in reaching the net-zero target by 2050.

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