Hydrogen Boilers: The Future of Clean Heating? A Guide for Landlords
by Property Investments UKThe Property Investments UK editorial team have been researching and writing about the UK's property market for more than a decade.
Some experts are suggesting that hydrogen boilers could be the future of clean, green heating in the UK. Here we will look at what hydrogen boilers are, whether hydrogen boilers are actually clean or not, and whether they could be the future for clean heating.
- Hydrogen Boilers vs. Gas Boilers
- What Exactly is a Hydrogen Boiler?
- Why are Hydrogen Boilers Considered Green?
- The Disadvantages of Using Hydrogen as a Fuel
- The Three Different Types of Hydrogen Boilers
- Can I Buy a Hydrogen Boiler Now?
- When Will Hydrogen Boilers Be Available?
- Can Hydrogen Boilers Provide Clean Heating in the Future?
Hydrogen Boilers vs. Gas Boilers
Natural gas boilers are widely regarded as being an efficient, reliable and relatively cheap way of providing heat. However, they not environmentally friendly. Gas boilers are a significant source of carbon dioxide or CO2 emissions – the so-called greenhouse gas which is said to cause climate change.
With the UK and other countries having committed to becoming net zero carbon by 2050 the race is on to find cleaner, greener types of heating.
- Gas boilers could also be banned as early as 2025.
- Heat pumps are often proposed as being the future of clean heating.
Another possible new technology for providing clean heating in the future is the hydrogen boiler.
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What Exactly is a Hydrogen Boiler?
Hydrogen boilers operate in much the same way as the traditional natural gas boilers already found in millions of properties. However, they use (as the name suggests) hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas has the chemical symbol H2.
Hydrogen boilers may be used to provide central heating and hot water in homes and businesses and they may also be used in industry. Hydrogen also has potential uses in powering road vehicles, trains, boats and aircraft.
Why are Hydrogen Boilers Considered Green?
The main advantage of hydrogen as a fuel is that it can be clean at the point of combustion. When burnt in ideal conditions hydrogen only produces water as a by-product. It does not produce carbon or CO2 emissions.
This is why hydrogen boilers could potentially play a key part in the decarbonisation of heat and in helping to achieve net zero carbon emissions.
Other possible advantages of hydrogen boilers are that they can use a similar infrastructure to natural gas and be installed and maintained by existing gas engineers with only a small amount of extra training. Initial estimates suggest they will cost about the same as it costs to make and install a gas boiler.
The Disadvantages of Using Hydrogen as a Fuel
There are a few potential disadvantages to using hydrogen as a fuel for boilers or anything else, however.
The main disadvantage is that hydrogen itself is not necessarily a clean fuel. It depends on the way in which it is manufactured or on the 'type' of hydrogen that is used.
Conventional hydrogen production is what is known as grey hydrogen. This type of hydrogen produces a lot of CO2 when is it manufactured, even if it is greener when it is burnt. Grey hydrogen is manufactured from natural gas and one tonne of hydrogen gas produces 10 tonnes or more of CO2 in manufacture.
Newer, more environmentally friendly methods of producing hydrogen are under development:
Blue hydrogen makes use of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) to reduce or prevent carbon emissions into the environment when hydrogen is produced. It is sometimes known as low-carbon hydrogen.
Green hydrogen uses renewable power and electrolysis to produce hydrogen without emitting any carbon at all.
Hydrogen is currently difficult and expensive to produce. It is also currently difficult and expensive to store and transport.
In practical use, hydrogen boilers can still emit some toxic gases, particularly nitrogen oxides including nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
These gases can cause damage both to health and the environment. These emissions need to be controlled if a hydrogen boiler is to be truly clean.
The Three Different Types of Hydrogen Boilers
There are different types of hydrogen boilers, each of which has different credentials when it comes to clean heat:
Hydrogen-ready boilers are boilers which currently operate on natural gas. They are, however, capable of using hydrogen or a hydrogen natural gas blend with some modifications at some point in the future.
Hydrogen Blend Boilers
Hydrogen blend boilers can operate on a blend of natural gas and hydrogen gas. Presently if this is introduced it is likely to be a blend of 20% hydrogen to 80% natural gas.
Pure Hydrogen Boilers
Pure hydrogen boilers are boilers which can only operate on hydrogen. They are often also known as 100% hydrogen boilers.
Can I Buy a Hydrogen Boiler Now?
You cannot buy a pure hydrogen boiler now. You cannot replace your old gas boiler with a pure hydrogen boiler. No boiler manufacturer sells a pure hydrogen boiler as yet.
You can buy a new hydrogen-ready boiler if you wish to do so. Several manufacturers already offer them and more are likely to become available in the next few years. Boilers sold as hydrogen-ready are most likely to be boilers which will be able to run on a hydrogen blend rather than 100% hydrogen.
If you buy a hydrogen-ready boiler now it will operate on natural gas for the time being. Current plans are for the UK’s gas network to be hydrogen-ready this year, according to the Energy Networks Association. A 20% hydrogen blend could be added to gas supplies from 2025 onwards.
When Will Hydrogen Boilers Be Available?
Hydrogen boilers are currently at the experimental stage. There have been some trials conducted, and more are planned, to trial how hydrogen boilers might work in the home.
Trials into hydrogen boilers include those conducted by Hy4Heat, and several community trials are planned.
It is likely that when pure hydrogen boilers become commercially available they may be for commercial use initially. At least one boiler manufacturer is said to be close to offering a commercial hydrogen boiler.
At the moment it is anticipated that pure hydrogen boilers for home use will not be available for sale for a decade at the earliest.
Can Hydrogen Boilers Provide Clean Heating in the Future?
The answer as to whether hydrogen boilers are the future of clean heating is, potentially, they could be. But there are many issues to be resolved.
At the point of burning hydrogen gas can be very clean. However, whether it is actually clean overall also depends on how that hydrogen is produced.
Grey hydrogen is not clean. So a boiler running on grey hydrogen would not provide clean heat at all.
Blue and green hydrogen are potentially very clean. So a boiler running on these types of hydrogen could be pretty green.
A hydrogen-ready boiler is not any cleaner than a natural gas boiler as long as it runs on natural gas.
A hydrogen blend boiler also uses natural gas so it produces carbon emissions. A hydrogen blend boiler is probably cleaner than a natural gas boiler but it is not entirely clean.
The environmental credentials of hydrogen boilers also depend on how the hydrogen is transported, and on the actual technology used in the boiler to burn the hydrogen.
At the end of the day, it is probably true to say that there is a long way to go and many issues to be addressed before hydrogen boilers can provide truly clean and green heat.
A recent government report – The Role of Hydrogen in Achieving Net Zero – says ‘Hydrogen could play a role in domestic heating, but the extent of its potential is still uncertain and looks likely to be limited rather than widespread. We are unconvinced its deployment will prove to be economically viable by the time the Government has said it will determine the role of hydrogen boilers, in 2026.’