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How much of a challenge do hydrogen boilers present to networks?

Europe has built up one of the best gas distribution infrastructures in the world. There’s one problem, though. Today it distributes natural gas, a fuel that will hardly be able to use if we’re to reach net zero targets in the future. So, can we use this infrastructure instead for clean hydrogen, either blended with natural gas as a stepping stone to net zero or with pure hydrogen in the future?

Delta-EE Director Jon Slowe was joined on Talking New Energy, the podcast from Delta-EE, by Eva Hennig, chair of Eurogas’ Distribution Committee and Head of Department for EU Energy Policy, Thüga; Keith Owen, Head of Systems Development and Energy Strategy and Northern Gas Networks in the UK; and Delta-EE Analyst Robert Castek. They discuss whether the degree to which hydrogen can be used in networks – both blended with natural gas in gas distribution networks, and with pure hydrogen flowing through networks.

Hennig suggests blending, which Thüga is already doing with a demonstration plant, will become more prominent in the future, which will require working through issues such as security, safety and analysing the components currently installed in the grid. With polyethylene pipes (and no cast iron) predominating in Germany, the pipes themselves are largely suitable. However, when polyethylene meets with steel, this can require careful consideration.

“When you have joints, when you have a valve, you have many tiny pieces made of high-end steel […] This is why we are analysing every component that exists in our grid. And we put them through the test, we talk to the manufacturers.”

On using gas distribution networks for pure hydrogen, Owen says that technically it is possible to convert the gas network to achieve this. Now, Owen explains that the next stage of detail is being investigated, “looking at the material science and understanding the impacts of hydrogen might have on all of the different components that are out there from polymers to rubber to plastics, brass, steels, you name it.”

Hennig adds, “There are then the regulatory and market challenges which need to be addressed so we can make sure each customer is protected and provided with the right sort of service.”

Listen to the episode below or on your favourite podcast provider.

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