The carbon credentials of hydrogen gas networks and supply chains

Paul Balcombe, Jamie Speirs, Erin Johnson, Jeanne Martin, Nigel Brandon, Adam Hawkes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)
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Projections of decarbonisation pathways have typically involved reducing dependence on natural gas grids via greater electrification of heat using heat pumps or even electric heaters. However, many technical, economic and consumer barriers to electrification of heat persist. The gas network holds value in relation to flexibility of operation, requiring simpler control and enabling less expensive storage. There may be value in retaining and repurposing gas infrastructure where there are feasible routes to decarbonisation. This study quantifies and analyses the decarbonisation potential associated with the conversion of gas grids to deliver hydrogen, focusing on supply chains. Routes to produce hydrogen for gas grids are categorised as: reforming natural gas with (or without) carbon capture and storage (CCS); gasification of coal with (or without) CCS; gasification of biomass with (or without) CCS; electrolysis using low carbon electricity. The overall range of greenhouse gas emissions across routes is extremely large, from − 371 to 642 gCO2eq/kW hH2. Therefore, when including supply chain emissions, hydrogen can have a range of carbon intensities and cannot be assumed to be low carbon. Emissions estimates for natural gas reforming with CCS lie in the range of 23–150 g/kW hH2, with CCS typically reducing CO2 emissions by 75%. Hydrogen from electrolysis ranges from 24 to 178 gCO2eq/kW hH2 for renewable electricity sources, where wind electricity results in the lowest CO2 emissions. Solar PV electricity typically exhibits higher emissions and varies significantly by geographical region. The emissions from upstream supply chains is a major contributor to total emissions and varies considerably across different routes to hydrogen. Biomass gasification is characterised by very large negative emissions in the supply chain and very large positive emissions in the gasification process. Therefore, improvements in total emissions are large if even small improvements to gasification emissions can be made, either through process efficiency or CCS capture rate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1077-1088
Number of pages12
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Early online date1 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2018


  • gas network decarbonisation
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • hydrogen production
  • supply chain emissions


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