Costain, the smart infrastructure solutions company, in collaboration with the gas networks, has produced a feasibility study that will contribute to the ongoing assessments of the ability to use the existing UK gas transmission and distribution networks to transport hydrogen. The project is the first to bring together all the gas distribution networks, working collaboratively to develop an innovative hydrogen solution that could be an answer to decarbonised energy for heat, transport, industry and power generation, helping the UK meets its target to be net zero carbon by 2050.
The study is the first in a programme of work to evaluate, develop and demonstrate the concept of hydrogen “deblending”, where proven oil and gas process technologies are used to separate the hydrogen/natural gas streams at scale to provide consumer optionality in gas supply to meet different customer requirements. Hydrogen deblending would allow for a varying mix of hydrogen and natural gas to flow through the network, and then separating the two gases so a controlled blend can be supplied to the customer. In this way hydrogen can be supplied to those who are ready and prevented from being received by those who are not.
The study is funded under the Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) available for gas and electricity network operators to fund innovative projects which have the potential to deliver benefits to network customers. The objective is to provide critical evidence as to the technical and commercial feasibility of using deblending to support the transition of the UK National Transmission System and Gas Distribution Networks to a 100% hydrogen gas network.
Blending hydrogen into the existing natural gas pipeline network to relatively low concentrations (less than 20% hydrogen) has already been proposed as a means of transporting hydrogen without significantly increasing the risks associated with utilisation of the gas blend in end-use devices (such as household appliances), overall public safety, or the durability and integrity of the existing natural gas pipeline network.
Deblending could provide a means to transition from a 20% to a 100% hydrogen network, providing customers with the options for either pure hydrogen, hydrogen/natural gas blends or natural gas to meet demand in industry, heating, transport and green power generation, depending on the customer’s readiness to adopt hydrogen. The fact that this is enabled through the development of tried and tested technology would also help consumer confidence.
Furthermore, it could help avoid the cost (estimated at billions of pounds) of building dedicated hydrogen pipelines or other costly delivery infrastructure during the early market development phase.
Costain was able to draw on its operational expertise and deep process industry knowledge gained over 70 years of overseeing the design and build, technology selection and optimisation for large-scale gas processing and separation facilities including CO2 and hydrogen separation in petrochemical, refinery and ammonia production applications. Using the operational data provided by the gas network partners, Costain evaluated the techno-economic feasibility of deblending schemes, and carried out technical evaluation and selection of technologies for hydrogen recovery and purification, development of process schemes, plant designs and cost estimates.
This study demonstrates the technical and economic feasibility of deblending in the gas transmission and distribution networks, providing a credible pathway to support the UK government in achieving the 2050 Net Zero commitment.
The feasibility study is the first step in developing the deblending concept; future stages will entail further technical evidence gathering and construction of a demonstration facility to prove the concept.
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