At a time of climate emergency there is rightly a lot of focus on carbon emissions, and of course greener cleaner construction methods should be encouraged in general, but it is very complex and much more expensive, and as we’ve found as we look into this aspect of LTC, things are not always as they seem.
NH/LTC have started mentioning hydrogen in regards to possible ways to reduce carbon emissions during construction. However, some of their claims seem to be further greenwashing attempts of the hugely destructive and harmful project.
When we recently asked NH/LTC for evidence to back up their claims it would be the greenest road ever built, we were told:
There are a number of ways in which the Lower Thames Crossing will be the greenest road ever built in the UK. A Pathfinder scheme, the Lower Thames Crossing is exploring ways to achieve carbon neutral construction, and will pass on learnings to future major infrastructure projects. The amount of carbon expected from construction has been significantly reduced by optimising the design of the road, as well as the methods and materials used to construct it. For example, we are considering alternatives to carbon intensive materials such as concrete and steel; and exploring removing diesel from our work sites by only using hydrogen and electric powered plant.”
Clearly this statement claims that they are exploring removing diesel from their work sites by only using hydrogen and electric power plant.
Yet in a recent official Prior Information Notification to seek a supplier of low carbon hydrogen for a contract worth £50m, NH state:
National Highways has designated LTC a pathfinder project that will explore carbon neutral construction. Low Carbon Hydrogen is a key element in LTC’s strategy to deliver its carbon reduction targets and a key objective of this procurement is to enable a significant reduction in the use of diesel on the programme by enabling the use of hydrogen powered plant, machinery and generators. The procurement covers the production, delivery and storage on site of Low Carbon Hydrogen for use by the LTC appointed Main Contractors to fuel their construction plant and equipment. Making hydrogen easily available could displace over one third of the diesel forecast to be used during construction.
Hang on, greenwash alert, they just told us that part of how they can claim LTC being the greenest road included them exploring REMOVING DIESEL from their work sites and ONLY using hydrogen and electric powered plant.
Hardly the same as COULD displace over ONE THIRD of the diesel forecast to be used during construction is it?
A bit more about hydrogen and the LTC
In Feb 2022 we heard various people speak about hydrogen usage in construction at an industry event. We heard that hydrogen construction vehicles/machinery is in development but is not here yet. We heard how hydrogen machinery doesn’t like vibrations, and has issues coping with the erratic power usage needed for things like diggers which surge in the power needed as they fill and lift full buckets of materials. How the hydrogen would need to be very pure for these kind of vehicles/machinery. And we heard how hydrogen machinery/vehicles would be over 3 times more expensive than current machinery and vehicles.
At another industry event in Dec 2022, when NH/LTC said that there would not be an LTC unless the carbon issues could be resolved, they also said that the project has also already removed 30% of the carbon through redesign. And that another 20-30% of the carbon will be reduced by the future replacement of fossil fuels with hydrogen and alternative fuels. They also claimed that another 10-20% will be slashed through carbon capture.
At the time TCAG and a leading industry journalist questioned NH/LTC on this, and their claims quickly faded.
More about hydrogen
Some hydrogen is not as clean and green as you might think.
‘Grey’ hydrogen is the most common form and is made from natural gas, and so it has a lot of associated climate emissions. ‘Blue’ Hydrogen is ‘Grey’ with the carbon emitted during manufacturing captured and stored. This is not yet available at any sort of scale.
‘Green’ Hydrogen is made by electrolysing water, and has much lower emissions than ‘Grey’ if the electricity used for electrolysis is renewable. So there’s a big difference on whether the electricity that is used is cleaner greener electricity or not.
Of course most of us are likely aware of issues surrounding shortages of electricity too. Now consider that when you use electricity to produce hydrogen it takes far more electricity energy to produce it than the actual hydrogen power that is the end result of the process. If you say electricity used is 100 then out of that 25-30 will be the resulting amount of power generated through the process from electricity to hydrogen. There is still a cost and usage of resources to make the 100 electricity, to only end up with 25-30 of hydrogen, it just seems crazy and wasteful, particularly at a time when we have electricity shortage issues.
What TCAG are saying
Quite clearly this is yet another greenwashing attempt by NH/LTC, something we have sadly become used to in regards to the proposed LTC. Their own claims and statements simply do not add up, and are largely more speculation and intentions, with little to no evidence to back them up.
The draft Development Consent Order (DCO) also fails to include anything legally binding to ensure any of this would actually be used, if the project were to go ahead. And let’s face it how many of us trust NH/LTC and their contractors to deliver a green cleaner more expensive LTC, if granted permission, if it’s not something they are legally obliged to do? We’ve not been given details of any incentives to be used in this aspect.
On that note we also question whether the contracts that have already been prematurely awarded include provision and costings to use greener and cleaner construction, such as hydrogen.
The procurement of the hydrogen is estimated at £50million, and we know construction machinery is predicted to cost more than 3 times than more traditional fossil fuel machinery. Who would pick up that bill?
It is clear that hydrogen is also not always as clean, green and efficient as expected, and is far more expensive. We do not believe that the use of cleaner greener construction, such as the use of hydrogen, has been included in the costings used for the proposed LTC in the Business Case.
This can only lead to more questions of how much more the cost would potentially rise, and how much lower the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) would drop. Both cost and BCR have already featured heavily in LTC DCO examination hearings, with the Examiners asking lots of questions on this aspect, and it’s still only early days and tip of the iceberg stuff so far in the hearings.
You can also watch the interviews we did with ITV News Meridian and KMTV on this here.
Extra on NH/LTC announcement about the possibility of using hydrogen
Note the strange wording used in the NH/LTC press releases, “launched one of the UK’s largest ever purchases of low-carbon hydrogen“, which has given the impression to some that the hydrogen has already been purchased. The reality is all they have done is put out a Tender Opportunity Notice, which seeks companies to advise if they can fulfil such a request and if so how much it would cost.
LTC Exec Director, Matt Palmer actually admitted in an interview with ITV News Meridian that they don’t know how much extra it would cost to use hydrogen. Bizarrely despite not knowing how much it would cost, he still insisted it would remain within the estimated budget! Considering he doesn’t know the figure, and the fact the estimated cost being used in the DCO application is now nearly 3 years out of date, we find this completely unbelievable and misleading.
There was also mention of the use of hydrogen for LTC construction (if it goes ahead) kickstarting a highly anticipated development of a hydrogen ecosystem in the Thames Estuary. We asked NH/LC what was meant by this, and they shared a link to the Thames Estuary Growth Board route map for hydrogen in the region. As we expected, this appears to predict an increase in traffic as a result of these plans. As has already been commented on by the Planning Inspectorate at OFH3, consideration should be given as to how much traffic would be generated from growth opportunities as a result of the LTC, if it goes ahead, and whether it would be counterproductive on reducing congestion.
A bit extra for those that like a video!
Whilst the first part of this video is about hydrogen buses and HGVs it does have some interesting info, including some of what we’ve mentioned above, that would also be relevant to the usage of hydrogen in the LTC project, if it goes ahead.
A couple of interesting points we picked up on regarding HGVs and hydrogen in the video are:
Firstly, evidently HGVs make up 1.5% of all vehicles on the roads but produce almost 20% of carbon emissions from transport.
Secondly, that you would need around 3000 big offshore wind turbines to power the production of enough hydrogen to power all HGVs on our roads, which is more than double the average annual electricity consumption for the whole country!
Prior Information Notice – Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) Low Carbon Hydrogen Supply – click here
NH – LTC to use hydrogen powered construction machinery (July 2023) – click here
NCE – National Highways looks to procure low carbon hydrogen supplier for Lower Thames Crossing (June 2023) – click here
Highways Magazine – National Highways seeks hydrogen supplier for Lower Thames Crossing project (June 2023) – click here