Hydrogen on the Humber should be at the forefront of low-carbon technology - Graham Stuart

IT’S clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more important than ever to deliver on our election promises to spread opportunity and investment to parts of our country which have historically been neglected. One area that’s key to bringing prosperity to our region is the move to net zero.

The Humber Bridge. Picture: Gary Longbottom.
The Humber Bridge. Picture: Gary Longbottom.

The Humber is the UK’s ‘Energy Estuary’, responsible for handling around a quarter of the country’s energy, whether that’s through generation or through the estuary carrying imports or exports.

We now have the chance to position the Humber at the very forefront of the global transition towards new, low-carbon technologies.

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Instead of being left behind, we can deliver well-paid, highly skilled jobs to the region: boosting our economy and improving our environment at the same time.

Several paths towards this have been set out by the Government. But there are potentially transformative projects under way right now, which can deliver these changes by the end of this decade. It’s my firm belief that hydrogen is a key part of this.

Producing only water when burned, it is being strongly championed by the Government, which believes it could make up between 20-35 per cent of the UK’s energy consumption

by 2050. It’s also important because of its role in decarbonising heavily polluting industries and carbon-intensive transport like shipping, trains and HGVs.

Indeed, in my own constituency, a first-of-its-kind, low-carbon hydrogen production plant is being proposed by Norwegian energy company Equinor. H2H (Hydrogen to Humber) Saltend will be a 600-megawatt facility situated on the Humber’s north bank at one of the UK’s oldest and most active chemicals parks.

The plant could be operational as soon as 2026 and could cut nearly one million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year at Saltend Chemicals Park, constituting a 30 per cent reduction.

Importantly, H2H Saltend would act as a catalyst for many other decarbonisation projects across the region. It has been dubbed the kick-starter for the wider ambitions of Zero Carbon Humber (part of the overarching East Coast Cluster), which will provide hydrogen and carbon capture pipelines across the region.

With the help of these pipelines, Equinor has set a target of 1.8 gigawatts of hydrogen production and usage by 2030, treble that of the H2H Saltend project alone and over a third of the Government’s national target.

Once hydrogen production at scale is reached, underground hydrogen storage facilities, such as in Aldbrough in my constituency, are also vitally important to an emerging Hydrogen to Humber economy and is an area I’m seeking to ensure isn’t overlooked.

The Zero Carbon Humber and East Coast Cluster schemes are a perfect example of our opportunity to level up previously ignored regions like ours. Public and private sectors working in tandem: a partnership of 14 experienced organisations committed to creating a net-zero cluster by 2040.

As well as creating jobs in these new sectors, it’s important not to forget that it’s also vital in future-proofing our historic industries. British Steel is a prime example, with over 155 years of history and over 3,500 employees in the region.

Steel is essential to our daily lives: from cars and home appliances to railway girders, bridges and even wind turbines. Yet the steel-making process emits massive amounts of CO2 due to the fossil fuels required to produce the high temperatures needed.

As a result, British Steel is one of our region’s largest emitters, but pressing the ‘off button’ and offshoring steel production is not an option. Decarbonising this huge industrial employer is both a challenge and a major opportunity.

Here in the UK, the opportunity to use locally produced hydrogen to provide the necessary heat, combined with carbon capture technology to trap and store any emissions, could ensure that British Steel stays viable in the years to come.

We no longer have to choose between the environment or the economy. It’s clear we can deliver significant climate improvements whilst also creating jobs; future-proofing industry; transitioning skills; attracting inward investment; and giving our domestic industries advantages on the global stage.

This is the Levelling Up agenda at its best.

Graham Stuart is the Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness.