The future role of hydrogen in the HVAC sector and the race to Net Zero.

As a potential solution for the 2050 net zero target, hydrogen offers a viable option for our energy concerns. Discover the possibilities of hydrogen with HVAC installations.

In a world consisting of expanding populations and ambitious economic incentives, multiple countries also pledge to achieve net zero emissions over the coming decades. However, transitioning reliance away from traditional energy sources remains one of the biggest challenges on the narrow path to achieving this goal.

​In the net zero roadmap to 2050 set out by the International Energy Agency, the versatility of hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels mean they could be essential in plugging the gaps where electricity cannot economically replace fossil fuels. So, is hydrogen an option to replace fossil fuels? And what impact will it have on the wider energy sector, particularly in HVAC?

Let’s explore.

What is net zero?

Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. The Institute for Government distinguishes two routes to achieving net zero, which work in tandem to:

  • Reduce existing emissions
  • Actively remove greenhouse gases

A gross-zero target would mean reducing all emissions to zero. But unfortunately, this isn’t realistic. Instead, the net zero target recognises that there will be some emissions, but they need to be fully offset, predominantly through natural carbon sinks such as oceans and forests. If and ever these carbon emissions are cancelled out, the UK will become a net zero emitter. Simply, the lower the emissions, the easier this becomes.

The Climate Change Act 2008 named six major greenhouse gases:

  • Carbon dioxide (makes up the bulk)
  • Methane
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Hydrofluorocarbons
  • Perfluorocarbons
  • Sulphur hexafluoride

So, what are the alternative solutions to these greenhouse gases?

The role of hydrogen for net zero

In the urgent race towards achieving the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, hydrogen looks set to play a significant role thanks to its versatility and efficiencies. Of all elements, hydrogen is the most abundant. As a gas, it contains remarkable ​characteristics, including colourless, tasteless, and invisibility, enabling hydrogen to be an excellent solution for net zero.

Hydrogen can also be transformed into a renewable, non-polluting, and zero-emission energy resource, which is ideal for the net zero incentive. Essentially, it’s considered the cornerstone of the new energy economy and the best option we have for net zero to be achieved.

Hydrogen as a net zero solution with HVAC

At Mid-Tech, we believe that hydrogen has the potential to be the solution for a cleaner future. The increased activity in the HVAC industry involves leading companies weighing up hydrogen as the ideal component of their future models.

This trend will continue driving developments within the industry, but it will take time for hydrogen to unite with HVAC solutions for net zero. According to the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change, a third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions come from central heating sources, while the wider energy sector contributes 76%.

Here’s where hydrogen comes as a net zero solution.

Comprehensive as a feedstock, hydrogen works as a fuel or an energy carrier and storage across many applications and industries, including transport, power, and construction. It’s a highly efficient energy source too, with 1kg of hydrogen producing as much energy as 2.8kg of natural gas. In addition, hydrogen doesn’t emit CO2 or pollute the air through specific processing methods and can therefore help decarbonise heating processes.

The amount of hydrogen currently used in the UK and Europe as an alternative energy source remains limited while being produced from fossil fuels. This includes heating applications, with 85% of UK homes currently relying on the natural gas grid for heating.

Given that the UK government has announced a gas and oil boiler ban in newly built homes from 2025 to cut 14% of UK emissions from home heating, HVAC solutions also need to be optimised to reach our collective pursuit for net zero.

Processes of producing hydrogen

At present, there are multiple methods for producing hydrogen, but not all of them support net zero incentives ideal for HVAC installations. The key processes remain “grey”, “blue” and “green”.

  1. Grey hydrogen, otherwise known as fossil-based hydrogen, refers to hydrogen produced using fossil fuels as feedstock.

    Mainly grey hydrogen forms from the reforming of natural gas or the gasification of coal in which hydrogen and CO2 are produced and released into the atmosphere.

    Grey hydrogen represents the bulk of hydrogen created today (95%), and the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from the production of fossil-based hydrogen are high.

    Since it’s cheap, grey hydrogen production is popular and has an easy operation method. It also requires less equipment and comparatively less space.

    Nevertheless, the production of grey hydrogen is strongly unacceptable due to the production of greenhouse gases.

  2. Blue hydrogen is generated from non-renewable energy sources such as nuclear energy. This type of hydrogen gas meets the low carbon threshold and is considered “fairly clean”. During blue hydrogen gas generation, carbon emissions are prevented by capturing and storing carbon.

    The processes used in this generation usually capture about 90% of carbon, with low to moderate carbon intensity.

    Producing blue hydrogen can achieve life-cycle carbon emission savings of up to 85% when compared to natural gas boilers.

  3. Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water by electrolysis, producing hydrogen and oxygen. We can use green hydrogen and vent the oxygen into the atmosphere with no negative impact.

    But to achieve electrolysis we need electricity powered by renewable energy ​sources, like wind or solar.

    Essentially green hydrogen is the cleanest option, as it’s generated from renewable energy sources without CO2 as a by-product.

    This type of hydrogen production is considered as the gold standard because it produces zero emission of greenhouse gases and is the key end goal for hydrogen fuel products in the near future.

Looking into the future with hydrogen and HVAC solutions

Is hydrogen the solution for a cleaner future? On the narrow road to a net zero carbon 2050, it appears that hydrogen could be the missing piece of the clean energy puzzle. However, for heating and hot water applications, numerous challenges prevent the ambitious goal of net zero from being achieved, for now at least.

Firstly, 85% of homes in the UK currently rely on gas-powered central heating, and hydrogen boilers are only now being trialled in test homes with prototypes developed by industry leaders such as Worcester Bosch, Viessmann, and Baxi.

British Gas predicts that “when the gas supply switches to 100% hydrogen, every new boiler sold in the UK will simply be a hydrogen boiler. This is the ultimate goal, but it probably won’t happen until the mid-2040s”. So, there is a threat that hydrogen won’t pass the tipping point fast enough to mitigate a rapidly warming climate.

Secondly, producing enough green hydrogen to replace all UK boilers is estimated to require around 30 times more offshore wind than is currently available. Furthermore, it demands replacing 20% of the gas pipe system as hydrogen cannot travel through iron piping.

Thirdly, storing and processing hydrogen poses a higher safety risk as hydrogen is more flammable due to its energy storage.

Our thoughts as HVAC providers

Hydrogen offers an excellent long-term potential thanks to its versatility and efficiencies and has received the support of many governments and companies worldwide that back hydrogen as the key to ​a cleaner future.

But despite the potential, it seems to have faced many obstacles to a smooth take-off, meaning that industry issues exist for hydrogen generation. From clean sources, it’s still 2–3 times costlier than natural gas/coal. With the current gas prices already skyrocketing, we’re concerned that this trend will worsen.

There has not been sufficient traction on the development of hydrogen infrastructure to counter this, but individual nations have increased their hydrogen R&D and spending, suggesting that progress is being made to adopt hydrogen as a mainstream source of energy.

One company that has caught the eye with its development of hydrogen efficiencies is Australian-based business Hysata. Hysata’s world-leading hydrogen electrolyser technology has been recognised globally with ground-breaking research.

It confirms that Hysata’s ‘capillary-fed electrolysis cell’ can produce green hydrogen from water at 98% cell energy efficiency. This percentage is well above International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) 2050 target and significantly better than existing electrolyser technologies. Solving these sustainable challenges will take time, but progress has been made already. Overall, we’re confident a cleaner, greener, hydrogen-powered future is just around the corner.

In the meantime, for any HVAC unit enquiries, contact us. Follow our journey on Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram for more handy insights.

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