Net Zero 2050: Is hydrogen the answer to Wales' decarbonisation goals?

Sharp End's Rob Osborne explored the benefits, and concerns, of hydrogen

A hydrogen project in Bridgend has been given the ‘green light’ and awarded UK Government funding - but some nearby residents fear explosions coming from the plant.

With the Welsh Government's Net Zero target for 2050, hydrogen provide a solution to hit its goal.

It’s produced through the electrolysis of water using renewable energy sources and can be stored and used as needed.

The Hybont plant, planned for a site next to Brynmenyn Industrial Estate, is being supported by a £750,000 grant from UK Government.

Brynmenyn residents have concerns about the plant being so close to homes and businesses. Credit: Sharp End

Nearby resident Chris Owens, told ITV's Sharp End: "We feel that we’re being used as a guinea pig and this is being dumped on us."

Safety is top of his list of concerns and is one of the reasons why he is part of the 'Say No To Hybont' campaign locally.

He added: "They’re saying this is going to be like a petrol station, but it’s hydrogen held under pressure above ground and hydrogen is very explosive so there could be a major incident."

Chris Owen is concerned about the safety surrounding the plans. Credit: Sharp End

Bridgend councillor Timothy Thomas says his constituents are concerned about the plant's close proximity to residential areas.

He said: "The proposed plant is within 50 metres of residential zones. There are concerns about the impact it could have on local businesses during the two years of construction."

If given the go-ahead, the development would include a green hydrogen production facility with electrolysers, hydrogen storage, a hydrogen refuelling station, plus a hydrogenpipeline.

It is said to create up to 130 construction jobs and five specialist jobs once complete to maintain and operate the facility.

Hydrogen produced at such facilities can be used as a fuel for vehicles such as trucks, busses, ferries, trains and other heavy transport - which investor Marubeni Europower says will help reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and helping to lower emissions from the transportation sector.

The Hybont plant is being considered in Brynmenyn, Bridgend. Credit: Sharp End

George Dodd, Senior Vice-Preisdent of Marubeni Europower, said: "There are well established codes and standards about how to use, produce and store hydrogen safely. So the project will, of course, follow those standards.

"I think it’s got a great opportunity to help us in our decarbonisation pathway.

"As we look to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, there are applications that are difficult to electrify. But the energy demands of heavy goods vehicles are a bit beyond what batteries can deliver today, and some of our industrial mechanisms can’t be electrified - I believe hydrogen has a big contribution to play."

What is hydrogen?

Professor Jon Maddy, Director of the Hydrogen Centre and academic lead for South Wales Industrial Cluster, said: "Hydrogen is a fuel and like any fuel you can combust it and with combusting you can gain energy and convert that into heat and movement.

"The benefit of hydrogen compared to fossil fuels, or carbon-containing fuels, is that you don’t get any carbon emissions from that process itself."

Hydrogen is currently produced and used in other projects across the UK, including Aberdeen City Council and their bus fleet, Wright Bus in Northern Ireland and HydroFLEX in Birmingham.

It's hoped the Brynmenyn site would provide fuel for buses and large vehicles such as gritters.

Chris Foxall, CEO of Hyppo, says hydrogen vehicles are classed as being "even safer than diesel and petrol".

He added: "When you force a single technology into a community it can be quite difficult, but if there’s options for people, they get to experience hydrogen and it works for them, then all of a sudden they’ve got a voice and politicians will listen to that.

"So what we’re trying to do is get buses on the road, get passengers on the buses, get cars on the road, get passengers in the cars and every time someone gets into a car they say ‘this is brilliant’ - why aren’t we doing more of this?"