Ben Rowton, Strategic Business Manager at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), explains the importance of accelerating the development of hydrogen-based technologies and the crucial role metrology plays in this process.

There are several concepts currently being investigated to decarbonise power, heating, and transport in the UK to meet the country’s net-zero targets. As highlighted in the UK Government’s 10-Point Plan for a Green Recovery and its 2020 Energy White Paper, one concept under consideration is using green hydrogen as an alternative carbon-free fuel source that replaces natural gas for generating power and heat. The switch will also aid the UK’s decarbonisation of the transport sector by transitioning vehicle fleets away from fossil fuel-powered internal combustion engines.

Innovation at pace and scale is required across the economy if these ambitions for the Hydrogen Strategy are to be achieved. This innovation is essential to support new and emerging industries and technologies and help existing established sectors transition from their current carbon-intensive business practices and processes.

The Government’s ambitions include growing UK supply chains for new and emerging green industries and technologies that aim to reduce the UK’s dependency on imported goods and services. This can further reduce our environmental impact and strengthen the economy by creating opportunities in the emerging global market for hydrogen-based solutions and technology.

Standards play a crucial role in support of this activity. They optimise the development cycle for products and services and provide confidence to end-users and investors alike. What’s critical is that UK organisations are involved in developing these standards to ensure that UK companies’ interests are represented and protected.  

Well-established industries are already using natural gas as part of their production or operational processes: transmitting, distributing and storing natural gas throughout the country for heating. These industries are now investigating how to transition from natural gas to hydrogen safely, efficiently, and with minimal disruption to their operations and customers.

Again, standards play a crucial role in supporting this process – providing confidence in infrastructure material suitability, and developing future methods for monitoring, reporting on, and controlling loss of containment.  

When most refer to standards, they mean technical standards, compiled or underpinned by measurement standards, test methods, best practice procedures, etc., from various technologies and consultation with various expert stakeholders.

However, these technical standards can sometimes get a bad reputation for hindering innovation. Measurement standards and test methods are often developed to support individual organisations with their technology or specific processes and can often accelerate innovation in these fields.  

As the UK’s National Metrology Institute, NPL leads in developing measurement standards and test methods. NPL represents the UK on national, European, and international standards bodies and committees to ensure the interests of UK businesses are protected.

NPL is currently working with partners across the energy system, from energy production to end-use, to develop the required measurement standards and test methods by investing in pre-normative research and infrastructure. NPL’s work focuses on a range of different topics, developing measurement standards to support the following:

The development of more efficient and cost-effective electrochemical technologies, such as electrolysers and fuel cells
Materials qualification for pipelines and storage vessels.
Leak detection and quantification of hydrogen emissions.
Determination of hydrogen purity and composition.  

As a National Laboratory, we work with key stakeholders across industry, academia, and Government to prioritise the support we can offer to tackle the hydrogen economy’s measurement challenges. As we continue to work towards meeting net-zero and environmental targets, metrology has never been more timely or essential.