The Hydrogen Economy Once it had a past, but what is its outlook?

Branch event
  • East Midlands
  • De Montfort University, Hugh Aston Building, room 2.08 for refreshments at 18:30 and room 2.07 for the talk at 19:00
  • 18-02-2020
  • 18:30 - 20:30
  • Book now

Join the EI East Midlands branch for a talk on the hydrogen economy.

Event details
Join the EI East Midlands branch for a talk on the hydrogen economy.

The speaker believes that there are good prospects for hydrogen, but that there is unlikely to be the all-encompassing 'hydrogen economy'. This view is based on his experience of British Gas in the 1950s and 60s.

In the late 1950s, the British Gas industry was dying. It was based on town gas, a mixture that contained 50% hydrogen. In the important domestic energy sector, electricity was becoming more competitive. The gas industry was saved by moving away from coal, and using steam reforming processes which produced town gas at high pressure from naphtha, essentially a low grade petrol. 
When North Sea gas came in, every burner in Britain had to be changed. The cost was then about £500 million, but this was hidden from consumers.

The presentation will highlight some political, logistical, and technical aspects about the proposed shift to hydrogen.

  • Given that by 2030 around 70% of natural gas will be imported, does it make sense to reform this, then carry out CCS, thereby adding to a massive import bill?
  • Can the transition to hydrogen be accomplished as quickly as happened in the case of North Sea gas?
  • Who will pay for the equipment changes in the domestic sector that are needed?  
  • Gas holders are being scrapped. Will this rule out the local production of hydrogen?
  • Converting existing long distance pipelines to transmit hydrogen at high pressure is proposed, but today’s pipeline compressors are unsuitable. More will be needed.
  • Back up of wind and solar generation will come from hydrogen-fuelled CCGTs. The burner changes at each installation will amount to £5-10 million. 
Transport and energy storage seem to be the best prospects, but where is the appetite for investment that once existed 50 years ago?


Dr Fred Starr FIMM, MIMechE, CEng

Dr Starr is best known for his 'Recollections', published in Materials World, the house magazine of the Institute of Materials. Here, he takes a sardonic look at what really goes on in the pursuit of knowledge and more importantly, status; while trying to highlight obscure but important bits of materials know-how. In 2016 he was awarded a gold medal by the Institute for a piece entitled 'Lies, Damned Lies, and Nuclear Power'.

After graduating in Metallurgy from Battersea College in 1966, Fred’s first real job was to train as a shift engineer on a steam reforming plant at Hitchin. In 1967, he moved one of British Gas's R&D centres in London, where he was responsible for failure investigation of steam reformers.

With the introduction of natural gas, steam reforming largely disappeared, and much of the focus in British Gas R&D switched to developing processes for making substitute natural gas (SNG) from coal and heavy oil. With these, high temperature corrosion was a serious issue, and Fred’s job was to develop alloys capable of resisting attack.

This work lasted until about 1985, when all work on SNG stopped, as did the research into high temperature corrosion. Instead, Fred was encouraged to develop concepts for generating electricity using natural gas as a fuel, which is how the British Gas Stirling engine programme started.

Another project initiated by Fred, the closed cycle gas turbine, was vital to his future when in 2004, well after he had left British Gas, he joined the EU’s Institute for Energy, at Petten, in the Netherlands. Here he became their technical specialist on IGCC plants for making hydrogen from coal. He was also responsible for acting as an observer in the implementation of the EU’s Cogeneration Directive.

He left Petten in 2007 and has continued to take a deep interest in the British energy scene, including supporting wind energy. Fred regards himself as a late developer, getting his PhD in 2007 and becoming a member of the IMechE, last year.

Travel information
De Montfort University is in the centre of Leicester (LE1 9BH) and is a short walk from the station or can can be reached by bicycle or car. The entrance to the car park can be found on Gateway Street. The Hugh Aston Building is a short walk from the car park.

Admission is free

Contact details:

Book now