Skip to Content
Back to resources
Published by

Laura Brown, Newcastle University

11 August 2020, 8:13 UTC Share

Harnessing hydrogen fuel for a green and industrial recovery

As the UK looks toward its economic recovery from the impacts of Covid-19, there is a real and urgent need to build a greener economy. By harnessing the potential of hydrogen fuel, we can drive innovation, skills and industry whilst enabling green growth and providing solutions for the UK to meet its net zero target by 2050.

Hydrogen is currently among the technical solutions being investigated for energy generation, storage, heating, transport and power. At Newcastle University we are taking a leading role in accelerating decarbonisation innovation, exploring the technical, economic and societal opportunities and threats that hydrogen presents. Last year, working with research partners, we developed the world’s first thermodynamically-reversible chemical reactor capable of producing hydrogen as a pure product stream. This breakthrough represents a transformational step which could turbo charge the green energy revolution.

The benefits of hydrogen

As with all new technological and energy solutions, there are challenges around regulation and markets as well as a range of societal questions such as acceptance and justice. Given the climate emergency and the need for economic boost, hydrogen technology solutions are emerging as serious contenders to these challenges and so it is vital that we engage policymakers now more than ever.

At Newcastle University, we are working with partners, government and stakeholders to apply our hydrogen and energy systems research and provide crucial independent evidence to inform policy. Most recently, our response to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hydrogen’s consultation was included in their latest report, published just last month, on how the hydrogen sector can support the national recovery effort.

This key report calls on the government to move quickly on hydrogen, at the same time as setting some ambitious policies to support the net-zero targets, provide investment and generate employment. The UK is already a global leader in hydrogen technology, but we must act fast to seize the upcoming opportunities in the global market. The European Commission has now announced its hydrogen strategy as part of the European Green Deal, built upon goals of a cleaner planet and stronger economy.

A coordinated approach

At Newcastle University, we not only consider our work on a global scale, but ensure it is regionally rooted. We’re committed to working towards net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2040, but we know we cannot bring about wider change by working in silos. As a member of the N8 Partnership, a collaboration of the eight most research intensive universities in the North of England, we are working together to drive innovation for a net-zero recovery. Green hydrogen is one of the prominent programmes of Net Zero North, and by co-producing research and innovation with businesses and policymakers, we will unlock new business opportunities and create jobs in the region and beyond.

In turn, green hydrogen can then be generated and stored locally to fuel transport, heat homes and power industry across the North of England and exported to fuel the rest of the UK and beyond as an important export. It can play a significant role in the government`s levelling up agenda to ensure prosperity across the country. The hydrogen industry requires a highly skilled workforce across economics, science, engineering, infrastructure and construction and will play an important part in the just transition as we move from fossil-based oil and gas industries.

Significant breakthroughs are being made every day in hydrogen generation research, but innovation is required for how we utilise this important fuel. With our industrial and government partners, Newcastle University is leading the research at InTEGReL, Integrated Transport Electricity Gas Research Laboratory, the world’s first utility scale gas and electricity network research laboratory. Together with our partners, Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, Northumbrian Water and Siemens, InTEGReL enables collaboration and innovation to test and demonstrate at scale these new Hydrogen innovations and to pilot these in the real-world systems. Thus, working with policymakers, we can help the UK take the lead in the race to Net Zero.

The low emissions opportunities presented by green hydrogen as a fuel are very exciting and its economic benefits will also encourage the government to look to the available expertise as it develops new energy policies. At Newcastle University we aim to aid the sector, the region and the UK in seizing this opportunity to help in the delivery of Net Zero by 2050.

Laura Brown is Energy Research Programme Manager at Newcastle University and Centre Manager for the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI). Laura takes a lead role in coordinating the broad range of multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional energy systems research of Newcastle University. This includes investigating the value of taking a whole energy systems approach to the UK’s energy future and what that means for technology, infrastructure, policy and regulation.

Back to resources