‘Unwise’ to assume ‘niche fuel’ hydrogen will be a panacea for reaching net zero, warn MPs

It is ‘unwise’ to assume hydrogen can make a large contribution to reducing UK greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions in the short and medium term, the Science and Technology Committee has concluded.

Hydrogen is a gas that doesn’t release carbon dioxide when it is burned as a fuel, however the methods currently used for creating hydrogen - or “grey hydrogen” - in the UK tend to be fossil fuel intensive.

Pure hydrogen resources are rare and limited, which is why processes are used to try and create less fossil fuel intensive hydrogen by using renewable power (green hydrogen) or by permanently extracting and storing the carbon dioxide that is released (blue hydrogen).

The committee chair and former levelling up secretary, Greg Clark MP, said: “Hydrogen can play an important role in decarbonising the UK’s economy, but it is not a panacea.”

He highlighted that there are “significant” infrastructure challenges facing the UK in terms of converting its energy networks to support hydrogen, and there is uncertainty about the cost benefit. He also emphasised that future decisions on the role of hydrogen must “increasingly be practical”, a reference to how the technologies for creating blue and green hydrogen are not yet fully developed.

He said: “We call on the government to set out a series of decision points, which would give industry the clarity that it needs.”

The group of MPs predicted, as recorded in the committee’s fourth report of session 2022–23, that hydrogen will be “a big niche” fuel in particular sectors and applications but “it will not be everything”. The committee said it is likely to have a “specific but limited” role in decarbonising sectors, for example in UK industrial clusters where hydrogen is already produced or the rail network which is hard to electrify, and some parts of shipping and aviation.

The report comes as the Government launches a consultation on a proposal to require all boilers installed after 2026 to be hydrogen-ready. However, the committee emphasised that it was “unconvinced” hydrogen will play a widespread role in heating homes by this date due to the significant cost, technological and infrastructure challenges associated. It found that although hydrogen could be blended with natural gas, policy for hydrogen metering in homes has been “overlooked”.