When I was a student in Stoke on Trent, Keele University was our rural neighbour. Its campus is a sprawling country estate, all set around the historic and attractive Keele Hall and lots of considerably less attractive 1960s faculty buildings. With its 10,000 or so students all living on site, Keele is Britain’s largest campus university.
As such, Keele functions more or less like a small private town. And there’s one particular feature that is playing an important role in Britain’s sustainable energy transition: it has its own private gas network. This network can be isolated from the national grid and managed independently, simulating the usage of a small town in a controlled setting. That makes it the perfect location for the Hydeploy pilot project – the first place in Britain to have hydrogen added to the gas network.
As I’ve described before, green gas has an important role in Britain’s energy. As a northern country, we need a good source of heat to get us through the winter. Renewable electricity is easy enough to source, but renewable heat is a bigger challenge. Insulation and efficiency can reduce demand, and renewable electric heat can meet some our needs, but we already have the infrastructure for gas. If we can create clean gas, we can still use the gas grid and boilers and radiators that most of us have in our homes.
That gas can come from various places – landfill or sewage treatment plants, post-harvest waste, or it can be generated from energy crops, including grass. With a few tweaks to the system, we can also use hydrogen, and that’s what Keele are trialling.
Over the next few months, Keele will add up to 20% hydrogen to its gas network. It will be generated on site using 100% renewable energy, as the university already runs entirely on clean power. A key measure of success for the pilot is whether or not anybody notices – there should be no discernible difference for gas users on the network. After ten months, researchers will be able to look at the performance of the blended gas, and take any lessons forward to a wider set of tests.
If all goes to plan, the Keele pilot will be followed by further trial runs on public networks in the North of England, before potentially seeing hydrogen used more widely across the country’s gas system.
You can find our more about the Hydeploy programme here, and Keele’s involvement here. And this isn’t the only sustainable energy experiment on the site either. Keele is also home to the pioneering Smart Energy Network Demonstrator, which can you can investigate here.