Science and Technology Committee inquiry on ‘Technologies for meeting Clean Growth emissions reduction targets’

IGEM response

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has recently launched an inquiry on ‘Technologies for meeting Clean Growth emission reductions targets’.

The Academy is planning to coordinate a joint response to the inquiry across the Academy and relevant Professional Engineering Institutions.

Questions for comment

IGEM has submitted it’s response to the call for evidence following a paper circulated to the key members to contribute to this piece of work. Below is a collated version of the responses to the sector specific questions.

Sector specific questions

The Clean Growth Strategy and the inquiry are broken into sectors as follows:

  • Improving Business and Industry Efficiency
  • Improving Our Homes
  • Accelerating the Shift to Low Carbon Transport
  • Delivering Clean, Smart, Flexible Power
  • Enhancing the Benefits and Value of Our Natural Resources

In your sector, what are the key current and future technologies that will contribute to emissions reductions targets over the next 10, 20 and 30 years? What stage of development and deployment are these technologies at?
  • Auto Thermal Reformation/Steam Methane Reformation with carbon capture associated (reaching 95% plus capture)
  • Bio SNG
  • Increased penetration of Biomethane
  • Compressed Natural Gas and hydrogen within vehicles also has the potential to make a significant contribution to the decarbonisation of transport. This can include all road vehicles (but particularly larger vehicles) and also shipping and rail.
  • Within the gas industry, and predominantly the heat sector Hydrogen is seen as a key enabler in the delivery of low carbon heat. It also features strongly in transport and can support the decarbonisation of electricity at the generation stage. Within this broad classification there are some notable technologies driving change. Whilst not widespread the deployment, development and ongoing research into electrolyser systems will likely lead to these becoming commonplace, certainly for transport, and to provide grid services to electricity and gas markets through power to gas connections. MicroCHP units are still to deliver the radical shift to domestic generation, diversifying the electrical grid and enhancing UK resilience. Such technology would place great pressure of the gas infrastructure, however with the higher levels of flexibility this is not currently seen as problematic. Hybrid systems will also play a stronger role in future heat delivery, sharing the heat load [unequally] across the gas and electricity grids. Finally a dramatic reduction in fuel cell costs combined with higher energy delivery may see the rise of fuel cell heat and power within the domestic be truly low carbon this would rely of the transition to a hydrogen grid network as described in the H21 project by Northern Gas Networks.
  • Technologies such as described above are key to a whole systems approach which support systems coupling to drive greater efficiency and accelerated decarbonisation into heat, power and transport.

How have these technologies contributed to progress on meeting carbon budget targets to date? To what extent will these technologies help meet the future carbon budgets?
  • Limited progress has been made so far using these technologies (limited progress on the decarbonisation of heat)
  • There is real potential in the future; studies suggest that the BioSNG potential is 100TWhr/per annum with Biomethane up to 10TWhr/per annum
  • Hydrogen blend (upto 20% vol) can contribute up to 29TWhr of low carbon heat.
  • Studies such as H21 point to the technical and economic feasibility of using hydrogen to convert large urban conurbations.
  • There is already an embryonic H2 vehicle refuelling network in the UK which is being led by Shell.
  • CNG connections are coming into line quite quickly and this looks to be area of expansion in the immediate future.
  • Decarbonisation of heat has not had sustain funding in place to drive the research needed. Indeed, much of the UK focus has been on the drive to decarbonise the electricity grid. Work is progressing through OFGEM funded Network Innovation Competition projects such as HyDeploy [blended natural gas / hydrogen project] and H21, a 100% hydrogen grid project. There is also now a BEIS funded project Hy4Heat supporting the development of hydrogen appliances. Given the long timeframe for these projects to develop the evidence, and from that for government to make policy decisions and support the strategy, decarbonisation could begin early 2020s with the deployment of power to gas but significant gains in heat are not likely to be seen until the mid-2030s as full scale hydrogen conversation takes place.

How much uncertainty is there over future technologies’ contribution to emissions reductions, and how can that uncertainty best be incorporated into the Government’s carbon budgets?

  • The majority of these technologies that have been suggested have already been proven as a concept (i.e BioSNG) or have been proven at scale (CNG refuelling stations on the continent, hydrogen blend in certain parts of Europe)
  • Other technologies such as widespread conversion to hydrogen for cities would be a first of a kind development but could provide widespread decarbonisation if proved successful.
  • This is all uncertain at present as the research to deliver the safety case is still underway and may require further funding and delivery phases to create the body of evidence necessary to support a policy change. Government must take a broad a pragmatic view of the carbon target based on the UKs ability to deliver. Accelerated decarbonisation can only be achieved through far higher levels of investment in research and demonstration to give the confidence necessary, create the new technologies that will be needed and to support the customer through this transition.

In your sector, how much priority should be given to deploying existing technologies compared to developing new ones?

  • There are many readily available technologies that have yet to receive the government support to create the economic space so they can develop. The electricity sector has received considerable support (CfD, FIT, RO) but this has not yet happened to the same extent in heat/transport other than the RHI and RTFO.
  • Priority should be given to deploy readily available technology such as hydrogen blends, BioSNG and Biomethane.
  • Work still needs to be maintained on high hydrogen upto 100%
  • Across the UK there is a chronic lack of investment in R&D. Energy networks do have some limited capability to invest in research with tightly controlled limits, but this is a relatively small sum compared to the size of the challenge. Decarbonisation of heat almost exclusively will require new technologies to deliver the change in a resilience and low-cost manner. Therefore, on balance the majority to research investment must be delivered against new technological breakthroughs.

What are the major barriers for developing and deploying these technologies in the coming years? 

  • The government needs to support CCUS through a suite of policy decisions if hydrogen at scale is to become an option.
  • BioSNG for heat needs a policy incentive, today only exists for transport and the RHI.
  • General policy shift to focus on heat and transport
  • Uncertainty, minimal funding, resources, lack of knowledge, changing commitments, cost impact on customer.
  • A secure long term strategy to support decarbonisation of heat is critical, backed by the funding needed to research, demonstrate develop and test new systems prior to role out into BAU. Without strong and sustained support progress will be slow or will stagnate.


Are there examples of technologies in your sector that have been successfully supported and deployed? If so, what has worked well for these technologies?

  • 1. Biomethane and the RHI
  • 2. Financial incentive

General questions

If you are familiar with the government’s Clean Growth Strategy, do you consider that it places the right weight on each of the major sectors (outlined above)?

  • Too much emphasis on nuclear – this is already a deployed technology and not enough emphasis on hydrogen and CCUS and the significant carbon reductions both of these can bring if deployed correctly together.
  • Seems heavily weighted to electricity, when it is unlikely that the electricity system will support decarbonisation of transport and heat. Also means UK loses a comprehensive diverse energy system with heavy reliance on the electrical grid. A re-balancing towards a decarbonised gas network would be beneficial to the UK.


What are the one or two key messages you would like to see communicated to the Committee?

a. Gas is an integral part of the UK energy infrastructure. It provides flexibility, significant levels of diversification and resilience and is widely accepted by customers as the primary heating vector. Despite this the level of research to support decarbonisation is limited largely to that driven by the Gas Distribution Networks, funded by the Ofgem Network Innovation Competition and Network Innovation Allowance noting that the total investment values for gas from these funds is significantly less than that available for the equivalent funds for the UK electrical system.

i. On this basis, given the huge opportunities a hydrogen based gas grid would realise, a significant shift in research funding and focus must be put in place to position the UK at the forefront of hydrogen technology to create new business, enhance exports of technology and skills and drive decarbonisation throughout the UK.

b. The UK has some of the best universities globally. Their research is often world leading and yet it struggles to make an impact within UK industry.

Part of the issue may be the mechanism by which universities re both funded and recognised which encourages the leading research but does not recognise in any material way the work required to develop the research ready for industry to pick up. This then leaves excellent research either left on a shelf, well read and well acknowledged by pear but destined not to improve the UK economy or it is picked up only by the very large multinationals who have the financial muscle to take the research and develop sufficiently to a market ready produce, service or process.

This does not then serve the wider UK economy well. What can be done to encourage universities to develop the research and support the SME and larger businesses of the UK. The opportunity is there but without support it is difficult to see how this bridge can be built.

Concerted effort now needs to be made on the decarbonisation of heat/transport and the gas network can provide the vehicle for doing this and should be central in the decarbonisation agenda.

d. CCUS needs to be deployed in the UK by the mid-2020s to create an opportunity for significant carbon capture by the 20230s

e. Gas grid can offer genuine options for decarbonisation by the mid 2020s which can then lead to further decarbonisation after that but decisions need to be made now to support deliverable, replicable and cost effective projects.