University of Sheffield to research UK take-up of greener hydrogen-based fuels

  • The research team, bringing together experts from Sheffield, Bath and Warwick universities, will investigate how to tackle the research challenges blocking the wider use of low carbon fuels in the UK
  • The research team will engage stakeholders to map the greatest research challenges to unlocking the potential of hydrogen and alternative liquid fuel, and work to solve these challenges
  • Project will focus on the potential for alternative fuels to decarbonise transport, electricity generation, manufacturing and heating which make up 90 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions

Sheffield researchers are part of a new consortium investigating how the UK could increase its use of hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels, as part of the country’s commitment to reaching Net Zero by 2050.

The project hopes to map and solve the research challenges that cause barriers to the wider uptake of low carbon fuels in the UK, particularly with hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels.

They will focus on the potential for these fuels to decarbonise land, water and air transport, electricity generation and domestic and industrial heating as well as high CO2 emitting industries such as the manufacture of steel, cement, glass, and fertilisers. Together these areas make up about 90 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Hence the potential impact of the project is enormous, especially to support the country meeting its demanding target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funding, initially totalling over £400k, will be used to support research activities that include UK-wide stakeholder engagement workshops. The research team, a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Warwick, Bath and Newcastle, will bring together high-impact, multidisciplinary, multi-site projects, with the aim of building longer-term research alliances and a National Centre of Excellence.

Professor Rachael Rothman from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering is a Co-Investigator for the new project, alongside Professor Shanwen Tao from the University of Warwick, and Principal Investigator Professor Tim Mays, from the University of Bath. Professor Sara Walker, from Newcastle University, will lead a second Hydrogen project focusing on Systems Integration.

Professor Rachael Rothman, Co-Investigator for the project from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, said: “Reaching our net zero targets is a big challenge requiring interdisciplinary research and collaboration across the energy supply chain.

“We will bring together the hydrogen community, both those currently involved and those whose skills are needed but may not currently be working in the hydrogen space, to identify and prioritise research challenges. The UK has a huge amount of expertise in hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels and it is really exciting to be involved in bringing together researchers and industry to create a blueprint for a National Centre of Excellence.”

The team will engage stakeholders and use a ‘theory of change’ process to map the greatest research challenges, as well as potential solutions to these challenges and their impacts. There is strong engagement from industry stakeholders and high-profile project partners including ITM Power, Health and Safety Executive, Jaguar Land Rover, GKN Aerospace, Wales and West Utilities, Siemens Energy and the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association.

Professor Tim Mays, UK Hydrogen Co-ordinator from the University of Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineering, said: “A thriving, low carbon hydrogen sector is essential for the government’s plans to build back better, with a cleaner, greener energy system. Large amounts of low carbon hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels such as ammonia will be needed, which must be stored and transported to points of use. Much research is required, and we will work collaboratively across multiple disciplines to help meet these challenges.”

Dr Kedar Pandya, EPSRC Director for Cross-Council Programmes said: “There is a growing consensus that these fuels will play a key role in the deep decarbonisation of all sectors of the UK economy, as exemplified by the publication of the government’s 2021 UK hydrogen strategy.

“Over the next six months, the hydrogen research coordinators will work across the UK to build an understanding, and galvanise expertise, in research and systems integration.

“The focused, multi-stakeholder plan they create will support the consideration of hydrogen as a key component of the UK’s energy mix and inform EPSRC’s future plans for an integrated, ambitious research and innovation programme working across the hydrogen value chain and its major use sectors in partnership with business.”

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