National Highways has revealed its low carbon hydrogen power strategy for its £9bn Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) project, which it believes will be “a step change in the industry”.
National Highways has designated LTC as a “pathfinder” project for carbon neutral roads construction and a senior leader on the project has even gone so far as to say that the scheme will not happen if the carbon conundrum is not solved.
As the first major step in this mission, the strategic roads operator in England launched its £50M hydrogen procurement strategy for LTC at the Port of Tilbury in Essex yesterday. The scheme ties in with a broader strategy involving numerous stakeholders to create a “hydrogen hub” in the Thames Estuary, that could see the building of hydrogen production and supply facilities across the region.
National Highways’ plan is to use hydrogen at scale to power construction vehicles including excavators and dump trucks working on LTC. This will be “the first time this will have been done on a major infrastructure project in this country” according to National Highways.
It aims to procure the supply, storage and distribution of over 6M.kg of hydrogen to use on the crossing, which is understood to be replacing around 20M.litres of diesel. A tender notice has been published for a contractor to supply hydrogen to LTC. It covers the production, delivery and storage on site of low-carbon hydrogen for use by main contractors on the project to fuel their construction plant and equipment.
The hydrogen procurement plan supports National Highways’ strategy to have net zero maintenance and construction emissions for LTC by 2040. At the strategy's launch event, National Highways LTC executive director Matt Palmer said low carbon hydrogen power was key to the plans to make it “the greenest road ever built in the UK”.
Palmer, who is also an industry sponsor looking after net zero and biodiversity for the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), told NCE that using hydrogen on a “mammoth project” could create lasting change. He said: “We can create the scale to create a market for hydrogen.” He added that hydrogen usage, particularly on larger machines, would complement the use of electric machinery on LTC.
National Highways LTC programme procurement director Katharina Ferguson told NCE that it had opened the hydrogen procurement process to around 15 to 20 suppliers. Following dialogue with potential suppliers on commercial models, scope and agreement, National Highways will narrow the suppliers down to three by this autumn, with the final tender to confirm supply scheduled for early summer next year.
Ferguson said: “What we’re doing here is a step change in the industry. We want to be a catalyst for change. We’re able to do that not just because we’re big enough to do it but also because it’s the right thing to do.”
In addition to reducing the carbon footprint of LTC, the scale of the hydrogen procurement plan has the potential to provide investment confidence to major firms and suppliers in hydrogen skills and technologies, aligning with the CLC’s government-backed route map to eliminate diesel from most construction sites by 2035.
Part of the "hydrogen ecosystem" would be projects such as Thames Freeport’s recently announced plans to build hydrogen supply facilities.
Thames Freeport chief executive Martin Whiteley told NCE: “If we can create aggregation of demand for hydrogen, that will have a benefit for hydrogen uptake more widely. We’re talking to representatives from the highways, the ports and of course the hauliers. There are thousands of HGVs going into this port, so we are working to engage them with hydrogen use.”
He said the aim was to build a network of hydrogen supply to decarbonise trucks, in particular by creating the “fuel forecourts of the future” to supply hydrogen. These would be more than simple petrol station equivalents, he said, entailing the construction of large-scale fuelling facilities with retail, hospitality and supporting infrastructure.
“Three brand new hydrogen stations are planned between Tilbury and Dagenham within the next three years,” he told NCE. He added that Thames Freeport had recently launched an initiative to model future needs of the region for hydrogen stations.
Plans are also underway for a hydrogen production plant at Tilbury Dock, Peter Ward, commercial director for the Port Of Tilbury, confirmed.
“We’re undertaking a feasibility study for a 10MW hydrogen plant, with plans to produce a proof of concept by the end of the year,” he told NCE.
The Planning Inspectorate has not yet granted the development consent order for LTC, but Palmer said last December that he was confident of getting the green light.
Like what you've read? To receive New Civil Engineer's daily and weekly newsletters click here.