New research shows potential of hydrogen-source heat pumps

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New research has revealed that using hydrogen-source heat pumps to heat UK households could markedly reduce the carbon footprint of global energy supply chains.

The researchers carried out a supply chain analysis on heating households using hydrogen-source heat pumps compared to heat pump systems utilizing air, ground and water as their energy source. The researchers, from the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre at the University of Sheffield, believe it is the first study to consider hydrogen as an energy source for heat pumps.

Their findings indicate that hydrogen-based heat pumps, which operate using green hydrogen derived from renewable energy sources instead of relying on electricity from the grid network, present a “promising option” for the UK market. They have the potential to reduce stress on the national grid network and minimize the environmental impacts associated with the supply chain. Hydrogen's abundant availability, minimal emissions, significant reduced greenhouse gases and reversible generation process were noted as key benefits.

Central heating operated by natural-gas-fueled boilers is currently the dominant heating system in UK households. Households in the UK have experienced recent surges in energy prices and the issue of pollution and dependency on fossil fuels in existing boilers pose significant threats to the sustainability, energy security, and resilience of the UK's building sector.

The UK government has set a nationwide goal to eliminate fossil fuel-based heating systems from new residential constructions by 2026. In its Heat and Buildings Strategy, the government set a goal of a minimum of 600,000 heat pump installations annually by 2028. The strategy acknowledges the potential contribution of hydrogen in the decarbonisation of heat, suggesting hydrogen could cater to up to 4 million households by 2035.

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The research paper says the heat pump market and its supply chain “will play a significant role in shaping the energy security and resilience of the United Kingdom.” The researchers said they hope the results of the project will help policymakers and other stakeholders select more environmentally-friendly supply chain pathways for heat pumps, enhancing the resilience of the UK’s energy supply.

“This research highlights the potential of a net-zero emissions strategy for heat pumps in mitigating ecological impacts, attracting investment, gaining support from local authorities, and influencing decision-makers to allocate more financial resources for the expansion of renewable energy sources and their integration into the grid network,” said Prof Lenny Koh, director of advanced resource efficiency at the University of Sheffield and co-head of Energy Institute.

The research paper’s conclusion says the United Kingdom exhibits substantial potential for manufacturing and advancing hydrogen production systems domestically. It suggests the heat pump supply chain, and the supply chain for hydrogen production technologies such as electrolysis, are strengthened in parallel in the United Kingdom. It also calls for manufacturing capacity development to supply all main components of heat pump units in the United Kingdom, including compressors, evaporators, valves, piping, insulation, and refrigerants.

“The outcomes of this study could also help policymakers choose more sustainable supply chain scenarios and routes to counter climate change, reduce toxicology and global warming damaging consequences,” the researchers concluded. “Such actions to improve UK energy sustainability, resiliency and security are poised to have substantial direct and indirect benefits on a wide range of industries and sectors.”

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