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What Are Hydrogen-Ready Gas Boilers?

Aside from having the expertise and capacity to help so many businesses with immediate gas issues, installation and maintenance, industrial gas engineers are also looking to the future, which as it pertains to energy and natural gas is in a very interesting position.

Many businesses are looking at the many different options set to become more widespread in the future when it comes to heating their facilities, operating kitchens and keeping their businesses running, and factoring that into the infrastructural decisions they make now.

One of the developments that has fostered the most interest is hydrogen-ready boilers, which have been seen by some to be an option for people who want to hedge their bets and cautiously enter the future.

Is it the right option, however? Are hydrogen-ready boilers set to play a major role in Great Britain’s heating and energy future? What makes them “hydrogen-ready” to begin with?

This article aims to provide as many answers as possible for an often-misunderstood part of the energy equation, one that has a role that has not as of September 2023 been explicitly defined by the UK government.

Why Hydrogen Gas?

A significant proportion of homes, offices, industrial and commercial establishments at present use natural gas in some form or another, because natural gas burns very efficiently, the infrastructure is mature and there’s a huge network of people who can understand and refine it.

This is a significant reason why alternative energy generation options such as heat pumps and electric boilers are not used to anywhere near the degree natural gas is; it is effective, efficient and typically the most affordable option.

This means that any alternative energy supply needs to have as minimally painful a transition as possible, and also why hydrogen gas has generated so much interest.

A hydrogen boiler is not identical to a natural gas boiler but works in a very similar way by burning a gas to boil water that passes through your water and heating systems.

This means that, in theory at least, only the boiler and a few other components would need to be changed to make a home suitable for hydrogen gas, said boiler could run on natural gas until a designated switchover period and it could save businesses and homeowners considerably.

This is also why businesses in the market to replace their boiler are interested in hydrogen-ready boilers, as it does not require as firm a commitment as a heat pump system and would hypothetically take little adjustment to make it ready to transition from natural gas to hydrogen.

What Does Hydrogen-Ready Mean?

At present, whilst prototypes exist, there are no commercially available hydrogen boilers that use only hydrogen to function (also known as 100 per cent hydrogen boilers). However, a compromise suggested by manufacturers is known as a hydrogen-ready boiler.

A hydrogen-ready boiler is ready as soon as it is installed to use natural gas or a blend of natural gas and up to 20 per cent hydrogen gas. However, it could be easily modified to run on 100 per cent hydrogen if and when the infrastructure is ready to do so.

This is not necessarily all that new a concept; boilers have been required to work with a blend of as high as 23 per cent hydrogen since 1996, but the idea is that they could easily be converted to 100 per cent hydrogen is what makes such a boiler “hydrogen-ready”.

There are a lot of questions surrounding hydrogen gas at present, and whilst the UK government as of 2022 has suggested it will have some role to play in the future of heating, exactly what that role will be is not quite as certain.

The Biggest Question

The reason why there are so many question marks surrounding hydrogen gas is that its deployment is reliant on the ability to deliver it through the current national gas grid and into small offices and homes without too much disruption or a need to rip all of the pipes out of the wall.

If this conundrum cannot be solved, then there is a chance that hydrogen’s use will be limited to being an alternative to natural gas in industries that cannot replace it with an electrical solution, such as the steel industry, aviation and maritime industries.

There are also questions about producing hydrogen, with more efficient methods to produce hydrogen through electrolysing water still under investigation and exploration.

This does not necessarily mean that hydrogen will not be a part of Britain’s energy future, but to what extent this is the case is up for more considerable debate than it perhaps was a year ago. 

By 2026, a decision is expected on the role of hydrogen and this should hopefully clear up any concerns.

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