Hydrogen-source heat pumps in UK households could significantly reduce UK carbon footprint, new research finds

New research by the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre at the University of Sheffield has revealed that using hydrogen-source heat pumps to heat UK households could markedly reduce the carbon footprint of energy supply chains.

two heat pumps outside of a modern brick house
  • New research by the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre at the Sheffield University Energy Institute and the Sheffield University Management School, and supported by the South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre, has been published in Nature Scientific Reports
  • The research, on the sustainability of the heat pump supply chain, shows that employing hydrogen-source heat pumps in UK homes could diminish the carbon footprint associated with energy production
  • The results of the project will help policymakers and other stakeholders in selecting more environmentally-friendly supply chain pathways for heat pumps, enhancing the resilience of the UK’s energy supply

New research by the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre at the University of Sheffield has revealed that using hydrogen-source heat pumps to heat UK households could markedly reduce the carbon footprint of energy supply chains. 

Published in Nature Scientific Reports, the research, carried out by Professor Lenny Koh and Research Associate Dr Moein Shamoushaki from the Sheffield University Management School, and supported by the South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre, shows the positive impact green hydrogen heat pumps could have on UK supply chains. 

The recent surge in energy prices for UK households, and the issues of pollution and dependency on fossil fuels when using natural gas in existing boilers, pose significant threats to the sustainability, energy security, and resilience of the UK's building sector.

This research carried out a supply chain analysis on a new approach to household heating using a hydrogen-source heat pump. In theory, the heat pump would use green hydrogen, made using renewable energy to generate the electricity needed to turn water into oxygen and hydrogen using electrolysis. 

The study explores a range of supply chain scenarios to compare their carbon footprint and assess their impact on energy in the UK. The results enable policymakers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the entire lifecycle of the heat pump supply chain, and its environmental impact over different time frames. Across all the technologies considered, all of them show that, with heat pumps, decarbonisation can occur in alignment with the UK's net-zero emission goal. 

The outcomes also demonstrate that employing green hydrogen as an energy source for heat pumps, rather than depending on the electricity grid or natural gas in alternative heat pumps and boilers, can markedly diminish the carbon footprint associated with energy production. The results suggest that establishing a new manufacturing line for heat pumps or expanding the current one could notably lessen the overall environmental impact. 

Prof Lenny Koh, Director of Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre at the University of Sheffield and Co-head of Energy Institute, said: "The adoption of clean and renewable fuels and technologies, as opposed to relying on natural gas boilers, is essential for mitigating the environmental impact within the domestic sector. 

“This research highlights the potential of a net-zero emissions strategy for heat pumps in mitigating ecological impacts, attracting investment, gaining support from local authorities, and influencing decision-makers to allocate more financial resources for the expansion of renewable energy sources and their integration into the grid network.”

Dr. Moein Shamoushaki, Research Associate at Sheffield University Management School said: "Our research shows that increasing the proportion of renewable energies within the UK grid network can lead to a substantial reduction in the carbon footprints associated with the supply chain of heat pumps. We hope that these findings can help the UK to address concerns related to the carbon footprint of conventional heat pumps.” 

Read the full paper here. 

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