The decarbonisation challenge

Simon Fairman - director, safety and network strategy at Cadent - looks at the role of gas and hydrogen powered vehicles in helping to reduce emissions.

The decarbonisation challenge

When I am asked to explain what Cadent does, my answer is simple: ‘energy’. The traditional distinctions between gas, electricity, power, heat and transport are dissolving. That’s a good thing, because there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution as we go deeper into the radical energy transition needed to take the UK to a green 2050. Integrated thinking will achieve the most cost-efficient, secure and user-friendly green future for UK consumers.

The gas network is a national infrastructure asset. It is incredibly versatile, well maintained and reliable. Making the best use of it to meet future energy demand is a smart thing to do. So, alongside our work to look at how low carbon gases can decarbonise heat for UK homes and industry, we are putting the asset to good use to meet another low carbon challenge – mobility.

The ‘Future of Mobility’ is one of the UK Government’s four Grand Challenges. The Grand Challenges are about making a difference to people’s lives and this goes far beyond the types of cars we drive. Air pollution has a heavy human, environmental and economic cost, with estimates of around 40,000 deaths per year due to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Swift action is needed to improve health outcomes and improve air quality in our towns and cities. We must find the solutions that can achieve this quickly and explore the more ambitious and far-reaching answers needed for the future.

We’ve heard a lot about the dash to go electric with cars. But we’ve heard less about transport’s other heavy emitters, for whom electricity is not the answer. Two-fifths of roadside nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions come from HGVs. This is where gas – and different types of gas – can pick up the baton, providing immediate and longer term solutions.

You may know that Cadent is leading in this area. We have six Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) filling stations already on our gas network, with the prospect of 12 more joining the portfolio in the not-too-distant future.

CNG is an alternative to diesel for HGVs and buses. It is one of the cleanest burning hydrocarbon fuels and the most practical low carbon options to lower emissions from HGVs over the next 15 years. Go a step further: if that CNG is biomethane – made mostly from a range of waste products – we can achieve huge emissions savings (84 per cent ‘well to motion’, compared to diesel).

Investors see the potential for biomethane, with predictions of huge and fast growth in the UK sector. We could see the number of biomethane plants rise by 50 per cent by 2020.

In transport, the John Lewis Partnership is so confident in the environmental and economic benefits that it made a recent pledge to power its entire delivery fleet with biomethane by 2028. They are among many big names in retail and logistics who are actively adopting this technology.

Here at Cadent too, we’ve a vision to make all of our own delivery fleet gas-powered in the near future, with plans for a new fuel station at our main logistics hub in Birmingham.


Keeping up with demand

So the UK must keep pace with such increasing demand from the UK and European delivery fleets. Planning and policy decisions that continue to support the growth of CNG as a low carbon fuel will support its role in reducing commercial vehicle emissions over the next decade. 

A nationwide growth in gas fuelling stations, alongside our work to establish hydrogen production for heat over the next few years, could also lay a pathway to make hydrogen widely accessible as a green transport fuel.

Hydrogen has potential to achieve the ‘holy grail’ – zero emissions at the point of use. This is stimulating high levels of research and innovation, and Cadent is proud to be part of that.

Demonstrations of hydrogen for rail and marine look promising and hydrogen buses are already a reality in London and Aberdeen. These bold early projects offer us a glimpse at the prospects for hydrogen transport, but to realise its full potential across all transport sectors we must meet some technical challenges.

Cadent is leading several innovation projects that overcome these hurdles – from technology to logistics. These will deliver valuable evidence to support big decisions on the UK’s future transport network.

For example, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles of all types require a high purity level. We need to understand how the right fuel quality could be delivered through the gas network to maximise the accessibility of hydrogen fuel in large quantities. Working with academia and technical experts, the HyMotion HG2V project will help us to answer this question and suggest workable solutions.

The HyMotion North West project is part of Cadent’s HyNet programme. Central to this is a pipeline delivering – by the mid 2020s – hydrogen to industry and households. But it can also be used for a future network of hydrogen transport refuelling stations in the region. Cadent will be working with local government and transport organisations to develop new hydrogen mobility projects, to support clean air programmes in Liverpool, Manchester and Cheshire.

The delivery of hydrogen transport over the next few years in all UK regions will also likely be the first contact with hydrogen energy for the everyday consumer. Safe and efficient use of hydrogen in trains or buses can help build positive foundations for its potential future use in homes. 

The forthcoming updated UK Government Clean Air Strategy will set out the scale of the challenge that lies ahead in delivering the necessary carbon savings from transport. It will be a tough ask on industry and consumers. New infrastructure will be needed, but smart and broad thinking on the re-use and diversification of existing assets such as the gas network can deliver the emissions reductions, economic boost and most importantly improved air quality so urgently needed.


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