UK Hydrogen Economy

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 17th December 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley 3:00 pm, 17th December 2020

I welcome that follow-up. I always say that we should, where we can, buy British and buy the best, but one of the benefits of leaving the European Union is that we can have our pick and choice of the world. I want the best to be built in Britain.

Let us turn back to the RTFO, which I know the Minister is terribly interested to hear about. A reformed RTFO will prevent taxpayers’ money from going to battery manufacturers in the People’s Republic of China. Such a simple amendment could ensure that we incentivise the manufacture of hydrogen buses by British firms, and establish ourselves as a major player in the sector. I am sure that that allays some of the concerns of John Spellar.

Hydrogen holds much promise beyond buses and HGVs, with important developments in the rail, shipping and aviation sectors. Only this week, I met virtually with the team at Hybrid Air Vehicles, a wonderful British company that is looking to revolutionise short-haul regional air travel, direct city-to-city connectivity and air tourism by way of building a practical and economical hydrogen plane. They have a working prototype and, if all goes well, will be the first to be issued Civil Aviation Authority approval post-Brexit.

Hybrid Air Vehicles is not the only British-based company in this space. ZeroAvia, a UK-US enterprise, has secured £12.3 million of UK Government funding for a certifiable 19-seat market-ready aeroplane capable of flying passengers to the UK from 2023, with letters of intent in place already with operators. That HyFlyer project is a great leap in realising the Government’s jet zero ambitions. Only last Saturday, British Airways announced that it was partnering with ZeroAvia to explore how hydrogen can power the future of its fleets. Elsewhere, Aeristech boasts market-leading hydrogen fuel cell compressors, with its 25 kW fuel compressor making it possible to deliver the power output needed for even the heaviest industry vehicles, including in aerospace.

Across the transport sector, the UK is at the forefront of innovation, from large companies to small enterprises. At one end, there is the diminutive but mighty Riversimple Movement, a hydrogen car manufacturer based in Wales, which has ambitions to build up to five small factories around the UK, creating thousands of jobs. We move up to the scale of Johnson Matthey, a British firm that is a global leader in fuel cell development, with its technology ending up in roughly a third of fuel cells globally. If the UK can maintain that advantage, we can steal a march on hydrogen, as China did on batteries.

I have been very active in discussing the hydrogen transport sector, but I am also greatly enthused by hydrogen’s potential across the UK economy. Home heating currently accounts for around 23% of national emissions, with the UK well known for having the oldest and least energy efficient homes in Europe. It has become clear to industry, and to parliamentarians, that decarbonising our gas grid is of the utmost importance if we are to meet our net zero target. Hydrogen in the gas grid will play a key role in reducing the cost of the decarbonisation of heat. Its high energy density enables it to be stored cost-effectively at scale, providing system resilience. Furthermore, hydrogen heating can be implemented at minimal disruption to the consumer, and the UK holds world-class advantages in hydrogen production, distribution and application.

Hydrogen behaves in much the same way as natural gas, and is therefore ideally placed to be utilised in existing gas pipe infrastructure. The UK is different from most European countries in terms of the number of properties connected to the gas grid and the readiness of our distribution network. In fact, 85% of homes in the UK are connected to the gas grid. Therefore, repurposing the gas grid to run off green gases has to be a vital part of the solution as we decarbonise our existing buildings.