Britain’s Northern Gas Networks tests hydrogen distribution grid

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DNV has built a gas distribution test grid as part of Northern Gas Networks’ led H21 project to gain understanding of 100% hydrogen transport.

The test ‘microgrid’ at DNV’s test and research facility at Spadeadam in Cumbria in northern England comprises approximately 1km of pipework of varying pressure tiers and diameters, and linked to three demonstration houses featuring hydrogen boilers.

In 2022 the test grid will also link to the FutureGrid gas transmission test network being built at Spadeadam by National Grid with partners including Northern Gas Networks. At this point, the network is expected to represent a unique ‘beach to meter’ hydrogen demonstration facility.

The intention of the test grid, which was constructed at a cost of £1.8 million ($2.5 million) and believed to be a world first, is to understand changes in the management and operations needed for the gas networks to transport up to 100% hydrogen in the future.

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Ryan Mallinder, Northern Gas Networks’ H21 Project Manager, says the H21 project has already established that it is technically possible to repurpose the gas network to transport hydrogen.

“The microgrid starts to look at the more detailed aspects of operating a hydrogen gas network on a day to day basis and any changes which we need to make from existing natural gas networks,” he says.

“As well as furthering our research into operations, the microgrid can be used for engineers to learn any new skills and competencies needed for operating a hydrogen gas network. It can also be used by suppliers to develop innovative new solutions and any tooling which may be needed as we move towards 100% hydrogen networks.”

Test operations over nine months will include purging, venting, repairs and maintenance to validate the suitability of existing procedures as well as validating gas flow and pressure modelling software. Pressure and flow within the test network can be remotely monitored at the site control room.

H21 is a suite of gas industry projects aimed at proving that the existing gas network can be converted to transport 100% hydrogen, in support of the government’s drive to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Approximately 85% of UK households are connected to the gas grid, opening the way for significant decarbonisation potential with replacement with hydrogen.

The construction of the test grid was funded from the H21 project grant awarded in Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition.