Betting on nuclear and hydrogen

This week the UK government unveiled new funding to support clean energy production, in a major signal of intent.

The move follows Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent impact on global energy prices and includes £77 million to bolster nuclear fuel production and support the development of the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors, along with £25 million for technologies that can produce hydrogen from sustainable biomass and waste, while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Nuclear investment

The government is committing to new and innovative nuclear energy with the announcement of funding worth up to £60 million to kick start the next phase of research into the new cutting-edge High Temperature Gas Reactor (HTGR), a type of Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR), which could be up and running by the early 2030s. The funding, from the Advanced Modular Reactor R&D programme, aims to achieve a demonstration project of the engineering design up and running by the end of the decade.

HTGRs are typically smaller than conventional nuclear power stations, more flexible, and could be built at a fraction of a cost. It is hoped that as well as safely creating electricity to power homes, HTGRs will bolster the UK’s energy sovereignty and security, by reducing reliance on expensive fossil fuels, as well as generate by-products such as low-carbon hydrogen.  

By generating temperatures of up to 950 degrees, HTGRs provide a source of clean, high temperature heat that could help decarbonise industrial processes in the UK.

Hydrogen innovation

Set to become a super-fuel of the future, the UK says that accelerating the use of hydrogen will be key to the UK’s greener energy future, alongside the government’s work to deploy renewables and nuclear to strengthen the UK’s energy security.

To support this, the government has committed £25 million to accelerate the deployment of hydrogen bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – a unique ‘negative emission’ technology that can permanently remove waste from the atmosphere by absorbing CO2 during the growth of the sustainable biomass and the organic content.

According to the government, hydrogen BECCS technologies will have a key role to play on the UK’s path to net zero emissions, providing hydrogen as a clean fuel for hard-to-decarbonise sectors such as transport and heavy industry. It claims that funding will go directly towards progressing BECCS projects from the design stage to demonstration, supporting the technology to eventually become integrated as part of our everyday energy system.

Home boilers

At the same time, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has launched a consultation on improving boiler standards, and has argued there is a strong case for introducing hydrogen-ready boilers in the UK from 2026.

The government is examining options to replace polluting fossil fuel gas in Britain’s energy system and has offered grants for households to install heat pumps.

A ban on gas boilers in new homes comes into force in 2025, although uncertainty remains over the timeframe for the phase-out of fossil gas in existing homes. Hydrogen-ready boilers are initially installed to burn fossil gas but then can be easily converted to operate on hydrogen by an engineer.

The latest consultation document argues that the strategy will reduce “the costs associated with scrapping natural gas-only boilers before the end of their useful life”.

“Mandating hydrogen-ready boilers will give industry the confidence to prepare supply chains to ensure the benefits of the potential transition are maximised,” officials said.

However, they cautioned that there is no guarantee that boilers will ultimately be converted to run on hydrogen.

While hydrogen is expected to play a significant role in the decarbonisation of heavy industry and the transport network, opinion is split on the practicality of using it in Britain’s gas network and the resulting cost to households.

The consultation, which closes in late March, will also examine the cost of hydrogen-ready boilers. “The government needs confidence that consumers will not face a premium for their purchase,” it said.

Climate goals

Commenting on the developments, energy minister Lord Callanan said: “With its potential to go one step further than net zero, and be carbon negative – removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere – this hydrogen technology will be crucial to achieving our climate goals.”

“Our £25 million government funding to develop this technology will help unlock private investment and generate new green jobs – all while cutting carbon emissions. This programme forms one of many steps the government is taking to develop a thriving low-carbon hydrogen sector as part of the UK’s green industrial revolution.” 

Set to become a super-fuel of the future, the UK says that accelerating the use of hydrogen will be key to the UK’s greener energy future, alongside the government’s work to deploy renewables and nuclear to strengthen the UK’s energy security.