Hydrogen-derived fuels have been hailed by many as a clean alternative to natural gas power within heating systems and could soon be used to power homes and appliances across the UK. If the UK is to achieve it’s net-zero carbon target of 2050, investing and exploring these alternatives may be sound investment in our long-term energy future.

How does it work?

Hydrogen fuel burns ‘cleaner’ than traditional fossil fuels; but what do we mean by this?

When it is combusted, Hydrogen fuel produces water as a by-product. Carbon-based fuels, such as oil and gas, will produce hydrocarbons, such as carbon dioxide when they combust.

Hydrogen fuel sources can be categorised into three main types: grey, blue and green.

Grey hydrogen fuel has been produced in the UK for many years, using a steam methane reforming (SMR) process to split natural methane gas into Hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This methane gas can be produced in a number of ways but is most commonly derived from the breakdown of fossil fuel products.

Blue Hydrogen uses similar processes, but the CO2 is captured and stored in order to minimise the emissions from hydrogen creation. Most commonly, this storing is done through a Carbon Caption Usage and Storage process (CCUS), which pipes the produced CO2 back to offshore reservoirs. Whilst this process emits less greenhouse gas into the environment, the storage of CO2 can still be potentially polluting down the line.

Figure: Diagram of the production of grey, blue and green hydrogen fuel (The World of Hydrogen, 2021)

The future of hydrogen as a source of sustainable energy is in ‘Green Hydrogen’. Rather than using hydrocarbon fuels to produce the hydrogen fuel, electricity is used to split water into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) molecules. This process is known as electrolysis and is the most environmentally friendly option for hydrogen fuel production. Once produced, hydrogen fuel is used in much the same way as natural gas and can be used in adapted boiler systems to heat and power domestic, commercial and industrial buildings.

Are we ready for Hydrogen fuels?

This is the (many) billion pound question and one that relies on our ability to adapt to a changing energy landscape. This will mean adapting both our infrastructure at a national level as well as the appliances within our homes. The UK government is planning to introduce hydrogen fuel in the gas current gas network gradually over a number of years – but exact dates are unknown.

Current natural gas pipelines currently feed approximately 85% of homes in the UK, an incredible feat of infrastructure. Much of this supply framework is capable of carrying a blend of hydrogen and natural gas fuel to our boilers, cookers and fires. As we mentioned though, we expect this will be a gradual process. British Gas – which has long been a strong supporter of a hydrogen revolution – suggest the roadmap could look like the below:

Stage 1

New boilers built to a new ‘hydrogen-ready’ standard. These can run on 100% natural gas and be adapted (usually a change in burner module) to run on 100% hydrogen.

Stage 2

A 20% hydrogen blend will be introduced into the gas supply. Most boilers will be able to use this as normal. The rollout of 20% hydrogen isn’t expected to begin until 2028 at the very earliest.

Stage 3

When the gas supply switches to 100% hydrogen, every new boiler sold in the UK will simply be a hydrogen boiler. This is the ultimate goal, but it probably won’t happen until the mid-2040s.
(British Gas, 2022)

Would it be more expensive?

The factor that ultimately drives any form of technological change is that of price. If change is possible, but the cost is to high, it simply doesn’t come to pass. Early forays in hydrogen fuel to power cars have had limited success, chiefly due to the cost of both vehicle and filling up. The vast majority of our cars are still designed to run on liquid fuels and hydrogen – in its natural form at room temperature – is a gas. It takes an enormous amount of energy to chill the gaseous element down and compress it into a liquid for us to fill up our hatchbacks. As a result, the cost were as much as three-times higher than petrol and diesel equivalents.

In terms of appliances, many of the ‘hydrogen ready’ boilers that are already on the market, are the same price as their gas-inly compatriots. ‘Hydrogen only’ boilers however are still at prototype stages. Manufacturers are reportedly confident that costs will not rise above gas equivalents because they works in a similar way and are installed and maintained similarly.

But what about our energy bills? Would adding hydrogen into our natural gas supply be the same old story? The short answer is we don’t know. Experts have been somewhat divided.

Using hydrogen could add about 70% to home energy bills compared with using gas, according to a report by Cornwall Insight, with a senior consultant at the firm explaining:

“While hydrogen does have a part to play in the decarbonisation pathway, through for example use in the industrial sectors and in the use of surplus electricity, current and forecast costs all show it is simply uneconomical to use 100% hydrogen fuel for heating our homes.”

Cornwall Insight (Patel, 2022)

On the other side of the coin, the spike in fossil fuel energy costs across 2022-23 have led many in the industry to point to green hydrogen as a cheap alternative, even after the current energy crisis ends.

“According to a report earlier this year by Rethink Energy, the cost of green hydrogen is set to fall from about $3.70/kg today to just over $1/kg in 2035 and $0.75/kg by 2050. Green hydrogen will be produced for $1/kg in some countries by 2030, according to Wood Mackenzie.”

Hydrogen Central (Redactoramexico, 2022)

At this stage, it is too early to tell whether the use of hydrogen fuel will take off across the world as a full fossil fuel replacement. What is clear is that with an ever-worsening climate emergency, we need to explore every possible option open to us. And as a services contractor, we must be ready to advise what the best service solution would be for each of our customers.


The World of Hydrogen, 2021. What is Hydrogen and how is it made?. [Online] Available at: https://www.theworldofhydrogen.com/gasunie/what-is-hydrogen/ [Accessed 24 April 2021].

British Gas (2022) Hydrogen boilers: Everything you need to know, British Gas. Available at: https://www.britishgas.co.uk/the-source/greener-living/hydrogen-boilers.html#:~:text=A%2020%25%20hydrogen%20blend%20will,2028%20at%20the%20very%20earliest. (Accessed: 18 July 2023).

Patel, J. (2022) New report shows fuel bills could rise 90% under government’s hydrogen plans, Cornwall Insight. Available at: https://www.cornwall-insight.com/press/new-report-shows-fuel-bills-could-rise-90-under-governments-hydrogen-plans/ (Accessed: 18 July 2023).

Redactoramexico (2022) Green hydrogen cheaper than natural gas in Europe boosts investment, Hydrogen Central. Available at: https://hydrogen-central.com/green-hydrogen-cheaper-natural-gas-europe-boosts-investment/ (Accessed: 18 July 2023).