LONDON                        -                A tiny spark in the UK’s hydrogen revolution has been lit – at a university campus near Stoke-on-Trent.

Hydrogen fuel is a relatively green alternative to alternatives that produce greenhouse gases. The natural gas supply at Keele University is being blended with 20% hydrogen in a trial that’s of national significance. Adding the hydrogen will reduce the amount of CO2 that’s being produced through heating and cooking.

Critics fear hydrogen will prove too expensive for mass usage, but supporters of the technology have high hopes.

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Using natural gas for heating generates about a third of the UK emissions that are driving global warming.

But the only product of burning hydrogen is water.

How does it work?

As a fuel, hydrogen functions in much the same way as natural gas. So staff in the university canteen say cooking on the 20% hydrogen blend has made no difference to their cooking regime. The project – known as HyDeploy - is the UK’s first live trial of hydrogen in a modern gas network. Keele was chosen because it has a private gas system. Its hydrogen is produced in an electrolyser - a device that splits water (H2O) into its constituents: hydrogen and oxygen. The machine is located in a glossy green shipping container in the corner of the university’s sports field.

The gas distribution firm Cadent, which is leading the project, says that if a 20% blend were to be rolled out across Britain, it would reduce emissions of CO2 by six million tonnes - equivalent to taking 2.5 million cars off the road.

The hydrogen could be generated pollution-free by using surplus wind power at night to split water molecules using electrolysis.

Why not add more than 20% hydrogen?

The 20% proportion was chosen because it’s an optimal blend that won’t affect gas pipes and appliances.

Currently, the UK has only small supplies of hydrogen, but the firm says increasing production would offer a quick way of cutting emissions from heating.

Consultant engineer Ed Syson told BBC News: “The prize is a large one. If we were to roll this system out across the UK it would be on broadly the same scale as offshore wind is today. So it’s a significant technology.

“What’s more, it makes those carbon savings without having customers change their behaviour in any way.”