PHD: implications of hydrogen technologies for decarbonising heating

Converting the natural gas network to carry hydrogen is now being considered as a serious option to help the UK meet its 2050 net-zero target for greenhouse gas emissions. This research project will evaluate a range of hydrogen heating technologies that could be suitable for use in domestic dwellings. The project will developing techno-economic models understand the implications of these technologies from both the perspective of an individual dwelling and the wider energy system, using a case study of Leeds. It will appeal to a technically numerate individual with some experience of modelling in a software package such as MATLAB or Python.

Full description

In recent years, hydrogen has been the subject of renewed interest as an energy vector for decarbonising domestic heating in the UK. In their hydrogen report, the Committee on Climate Change note that hydrogen could play a valuable role as part of a heating solution for UK buildings. In Leeds, the local gas network operator, Northern Gas Networks, has proposed to replace natural gas in the gas grid with hydrogen, as part of a wider rollout of hydrogen across many parts of the UK.  While significant research has been undertaken by the gas industry into the suitability of natural gas networks for conversion to hydrogen, there has been much less work on the appliances that will use this hydrogen.

At the moment the most widely considered hydrogen technology for providing domestic heating is a direct flame combustion boiler, which would act as a like-for-like replacement for the current natural gas boiler. However, other heating technologies using hydrogen are at different stages of development, including a catalytic boiler (which uses a chemical reaction to produce heat), a standard hydrogen boiler combined with a vapour compression heat-pump (VC-HP), and a fuel-cell combined heat and power plant (FC-CHP) coupled with an absorption heat-pump (Ab-HP). Some of these technologies are materially different to the current gas boiler in that they also provide electricity (e.g. FC-CHP) or provide heat at a lower temperature (Ab-HP or VC-HP). The technologies that incorporate HPs also tend to have much higher overall efficiencies of heat production, with implications for the volumes of hydrogen needed.

The aim of this research will be to develop techno-economic models that could evaluate these technologies from both the perspective of an individual dwelling and the wider energy system, using a case study of Leeds. Key research questions could include:

  • How do the different hydrogen heating technologies compare in terms of cost and performance and how might these change in the future?
  • Does the optimal technology depend on the heat load and profile of the dwelling?
  • What are the likely volumes of hydrogen needed for decarbonising heat in Leeds via these different technologies?
  • What are the implications for the existing gas and electricity networks in Leeds of deploying these technologies?
  • What would be the upstream infrastructure implications of deploying these technologies?

Based in the School of Chemical and Process Engineering, this will be an interdisciplinary project, bringing together engineering and economic analysis and will be part of the Sustainable Systems and Processes research theme of the School. It will appeal to a technically numerate individual with some experience of modelling in a software package such as MATLAB or Python. The successful candidate will be joining a vibrant research environment, with a number of researchers and PhD students working on EPSRC-funded projects in related areas. These include projects on pathways for integrated urban heat systems, the future of UK energy networks, and the role of heat storage.

For more information click here.

Closing date: 1 Sep 2020