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Future combustion with hydrogen

Future combustion with hydrogen

In 2020, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a 10-point plan to provide a route map to net zero carbon by 2050. The second of these 10 points was to ‘drive the growth of low carbon hydrogen’ as an alternative to using fossil fuels for heating.

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The potential value of hydrogen was further ‘fuelled’ at the COP26 conference in November 2021, as part of a range of measures to reduce carbon emissions. To the end, the UK government intends to create 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030. There are also supporting measures, including a £240m Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, with plans to attract additional private sector investment.

When hydrogen burns it combines with oxygen to form water, and so avoids the various emissions associated with burning fossil fuels. The challenge is to ensure that the hydrogen is produced without emissions and the energy industry talks broadly in terms of green hydrogen and blue hydrogen (though in fact there is a whole spectrum of colours applied to hydrogen, see below).

As the name suggests, green hydrogen is produced without any net CO2 emissions by using renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This is clearly the best option but would add to the pressure already being put on renewable electricity capacity by the rapidly growing use of heat pumps and electric cars.

Blue hydrogen is produced by bringing natural gas and steam together to release both hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This must therefore be used in conjunction with carbon capture and storage if emission of greenhouse gases is to be avoided.

Hydrogen roll-out?

Whilst the potential benefits of hydrogen are well accepted, we are some way off being able to replace natural gas in all of the appliances that use it. These include domestic, commercial and industrial boilers, industrial process heating, gas-fired air and radiant heaters and gas hobs on domestic and commercial cooking equipment.
All of which means there is still much to do but there are early indications that many existing appliances will be able to convert to hydrogen with only minor modifications – if any. At Hoval we are working to ensure that our combustion products are ‘hydrogen-ready’ so we can support customers through their own transition to net zero carbon.


Hydrogen is just one of the initiatives intended to help the UK meet its emissions targets and in coming years we can expect to see some significant changes in the way we heat our buildings and industrial processes. In some of these applications it will be feasible to replace combustion with heat pumps but there are also many areas where combustion is the only viable option. In these instances, burning hydrogen is clearly a better option than fossil fuels.

The hydrogen colour spectrum

As noted above, there are in fact quite a few colours attributed to hydrogen, depending how it is produced. The following is a summary for reference:

  • Green Hydrogen: by electrolysis of water using renewable electricity.
  • Blue Hydrogen: produced from natural gas and steam.
  • Black and Brown Hydrogen: produced from coal.
  • Pink Hydrogen: electrolysis of water using electricity from nuclear energy.
  • Yellow Hydrogen: electrolysis using electricity specifically from solar power.
  • White Hydrogen: Naturally occurring hydrogen in underground deposits and created by fracking.

Find out more about our hydrogen ready UltraGas 2 Boilers.