Peak power: hydrogen will be injected for the first time in a British station | Energy industry

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Hydrogen will be injected into an emergency gas-fired power station for the first time in a pilot project supported by the owner of British Gas.

Centrica has invested in an industrial joint venture that will test hydrogen at an existing “state of the art plant” at its Brigg station in Lincolnshire, the Guardian can reveal.

The pilot project, which will be launched in the second half of next year, aims to examine the role that hydrogen can play in the production of electricity.

Peaking power plants generally operate only when there is a high or peak demand for electricity. Brigg’s 49 MW gas-fired plant is designed to meet demand during peak hours or when generation from renewables is low, typically operating less than three hours per day.

The pilot is one of 20 projects part-funded by an £8 million program from the Net Zero Technology Center (NZTC), which receives funding from the UK and Scottish governments.

Centrica also increased its stake in HiiROC, the start-up behind the project, from 2% to 5%, a small investment for the energy giant of £4bn. In November 2021, HiiROC raised £26m from an array of investors including Centrica, industrial buyout firm Melrose, investment fund HydrogenOne and automakers Hyundai and Kia.

The project is designed to test the practicalities of mixing hydrogen and natural gas at a power plant, with the aim of reducing the site’s overall carbon intensity. In its early days, only 3% of the gas mixture should be hydrogen, gradually increasing to 20%. The initiative’s partners hope to eventually power the plant using only hydrogen and set a precedent for decarbonizing other gas-fired peaking plants.

Hydrogen is produced by splitting water using electricity, with minimal emissions. It is considered essential for decarbonizing energy-intensive industries, although there are fierce debate about its use and the motives of the army of lobbyists pushing its cause at Westminster.

HiiROC, founded in Hull in 2019, has developed an electrolysis process using technology that can create hydrogen at lower cost or with higher emissions than other methods.

Its process converts biomethane, flare gas or natural gas into hydrogen and carbon black, a by-product that can be used in tires, rubbers and printing inks.

Greg McKenna, Managing Director of Centrica Business Solutions, said: “Gas continues to play a huge role in maintaining a secure and stable supply of electricity in the UK, with around 40% of our electricity coming from natural gas. It is therefore vital that we find ways to reduce the carbon intensity of gasworks like Brigg’s.

“We are delighted to be awarded the NZTC grant to explore the role of hydrogen in providing the low-carbon backup power we will need to maintain security of supply as more renewable energy will be put into use.”

Centrica increased windfall profits and reinstated its dividend this year as wholesale gas prices soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Centrica is already converting part of the Brigg site into a battery storage facility designed to store energy generated by nearby onshore wind farms.

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