Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Environmental response to hydrogen emissions

Apply for funding to explore the environmental response to hydrogen emissions.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £1,687,500. NERC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Projects must start in October 2022 and last no longer than 24 months.

Who can apply

Normal individual eligibility applies and detailed information can be found in section c of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

NERC values equality, diversity and inclusion across all its funding programmes, and actively encourages proposals from diverse groups of researchers.

UKRI research and fellowship grants for all schemes may be held at:

  • approved UK higher education institutions
  • approved research council institutes
  • independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments.

See full details of approved organisations.

You may be involved in no more than three proposals submitted to this funding opportunity. Only one of these may be as the lead principal investigator.

Sub-contracts are eligible for costs on proposals submitted to this funding opportunity but should only be used for the procurement of goods and services.

Sub-contracts are not permitted for research partners providing intellectual input into the project, where a research partner or project partner relationship is more appropriate.

No studentships will be allowed under this opportunity.

What we're looking for

Project details

An anticipated six awards across the three topics will be funded.

Projects must start in October 2022 and last no longer than 24 months.

Topic A

One project, with a maximum budget to UKRI of £900,000.

Topic B

One project, with a maximum budget to UKRI of £1,350,000.

Topic C

At least four projects, with a maximum budget to UKRI of £400,000 each.

Programme finances

The total budget for this funding opportunity is £3,850,000.

Programme scope

The use of hydrogen as a substitute for carbon-containing fossil fuels, such as natural gas, would lead to reductions in carbon dioxide and methane emissions and therefore have a significant climate benefit.

However, leakage of hydrogen into the atmosphere during its production, storage, distribution and use will affect atmospheric composition, reducing the climate benefit and impacting air quality.

Furthermore, the atmospheric response to the adoption of a hydrogen economy will not only be dependent on the scale of this leakage but also how co-emissions of species such as methane, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides change according to different hydrogen production and use pathways.

These changes will have further implications for atmospheric chemistry and so the impacts on climate and air quality.

There remain uncertainties and gaps in knowledge regarding hydrogen’s environmental behaviour.

These need to be urgently addressed to understand the implications of hydrogen use and enable unintended consequences of the delivery of a hydrogen economy to be minimised.

This research programme aims to fill these through the following topics:

Topic A: increasing certainty of atmospheric composition, radiative forcing, and global warming potential of hydrogen emissions

Hydrogen emissions are known to affect atmospheric composition and radiative forcing, which means a global warming potential (GWP) can be calculated for hydrogen as an indirect greenhouse gas.

However, only a few studies have estimated a GWP for hydrogen with a limited range of models, and there remains large uncertainty in these values.

An extensive modelling study is required to interrogate existing modelling approaches and assumptions, using different atmospheric models with different chemistry schemes.

This is in order to increase validity and certainty of the direct and indirect impacts of hydrogen emissions on the atmosphere and ecosystems.

Key areas of model development or modelling uncertainty include:

  • carrying out transient experiments using flux boundary conditions for hydrogen and methane, as opposed to fixed lower boundary surface concentrations
  • reducing uncertainty in the chemical lifetime of hydrogen
  • exploring regional variation in radiative forcing from hydrogen
  • reducing uncertainty associated with complex atmospheric interactions with cloud and aerosols resulting from perturbations to methane and hydrogen emission accounting for oceanic uptake of hydrogen.

If you wish to discuss approaches for this topic further, please contact the funders who will be able to advise on current research gaps.

The research approach for topic A should be entirely modelling based.

Topic B: addressing the role of the terrestrial hydrogen sink

Hydrogen has an atmospheric lifetime of one to two years and is understood to be primarily removed from the atmosphere by soils.

Observational recordings of hydrogen show that atmospheric concentrations are more variable globally than longer lived chemicals.

The Northern Hemisphere, which has a greater land area, has a lower hydrogen concentration in the atmosphere above it than the Southern Hemisphere atmosphere.

However, there are large uncertainties associated with the size of the hydrogen soil sink, due to limited understanding of the processes involved, and how they will be impacted by future climate change.

The lack of detailed understanding of the size, temporal and spatial behaviour of this sink, and hence the limited ability to parameterise its response to a changing release rate of hydrogen to the atmosphere, is a major source of uncertainty in modelling the impacts of hydrogen on climate and air quality.

The research challenge for applications addressing topic B is understanding the processes controlling the role of the soil sink.

This includes how soil respiration, vegetation and hydrology influence the process of hydrogen loss from the atmospheric measurements to enable models to be better parameterised, and if inter-hemispheric differences arise from controls other than surface area of the terrestrial sink.

You are encouraged to consider international activities in this area when developing parametrisations  to global modelling.

This research approach for topic B is anticipated to be largely experimental, with observational and modelling components also included.

Topic C: impacts of hydrogen use scenarios on the atmosphere and impacts on air quality

The impacts of a hydrogen economy on atmospheric composition and radiative forcing will be dependent on a number of factors. These include:

  • the scale of hydrogen infrastructure
  • hydrogen leakage rates
  • the rate at which carbon-containing fossil fuels are substituted by hydrogen
  • associated reductions in other anthropogenic emissions.

For this reason, understanding how (and how quickly) hydrogen usage and infrastructure may be rolled out over coming decades will be critically important to understand the impact of hydrogen on climate, and provide approaches that will enable any unintended consequences of a switch to a hydrogen economy to be avoided.

As well as having consequences for radiative forcing, the complex chemical interactions that hydrogen will have within the troposphere with other chemical species including methane, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds will affect air quality.

This is against a backdrop of significant changes in emissions of these pollutants as the global community aims towards net zero.

Increasing hydrogen emissions alone (other emissions remain constant) will result in an increase in tropospheric ozone, in turn damaging the ability of plants to sequester carbon dioxide, increasing the adverse impacts on human health and surface vegetation at ground-level.

However, use of hydrogen as a fuel should also decrease emission of methane, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds, which have a role in formation of tropospheric ozone in the atmosphere.

Research is needed to develop scenarios of the future national regional and global hydrogen economy and model how hydrogen usage may affect co-emissions concentrations and therefore how this has a knock-on impact on ground level tropospheric ozone.

In addition to tropospheric ozone changes, use of hydrogen as a fuel may result in increased emission of particulate matter 2.5 and nitrogen oxides (for example, from hydrogen boilers until regulations are refined), compounds which also impact on human and plant health.

This requires an understanding of the atmospheric chemistry feedbacks of hydrogen emissions, incorporating spatial and temporal variability, including different environments (for example, urban versus rural), to understand population and ecological exposure of changing air quality.

Research under topic C should therefore devise a range of scenarios on the scale and rate of rollout of:

  • the hydrogen economy
  • heating
  • surface transport
  • aviation
  • power generation
  • hydrogen leakage rates
  • associated changes in other anthropogenic emissions.

These scenarios should then be explored in existing climate and air quality models to understand the potential impacts of the move to a hydrogen economy in the UK in the context of a changing global energy system more comprehensively.

The research approach under topic C is anticipated to be through small modelling studies.

Individual proposals may address elements of the above scope but do not need to cover its entirety.

The funders will look to ensure funding of a balanced suite and complementary projects to cover the full scope and objectives of the programme.

A subsequent knowledge exchange fellowship funding opportunity to support  the programme will be advertised in spring 2022.

NERC facilities

If you wish to use NERC services and facilities, you will need to contact the relevant facility at least two months prior to submission of your grant to discuss the proposed work and receive confirmation that you can provide the services required within the timeframe of the grant.

The facility will then provide a technical assessment that includes the calculated cost of providing the service.

NERC services and facilities must be costed within the limits of the proposal.

The technical assessment must be submitted as part of the Je-S form, as detailed in the ‘additional information’ section and within the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

The full list of NERC facilities that require a technical assessment can be found on the NERC website, excluding high performance computing, ship-time or marine equipment and the large research facilities at Harwell, as these services have their own policies for access and costing.

Data management

The NERC data policy must be adhered to, and a full data management plan will be developed by successful applicants with the appropriate environmental data centre.

NERC will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for archival and curation services, but you should ensure you request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team.

How to apply

You must state in the title of your application whether you are applying to topic A, B or C.

The funding opportunity will close on Je-S at 16:00 on 16 June 2022 and it will not be possible to submit to the opportunity after this time.

You should leave enough time for your proposal to pass through the organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

Any proposal that is incomplete or does not meet NERC’s eligibility criteria or follow NERC’s submission rules (see NERC research grant and fellowship handbook), will be office rejected and will not be considered.

Proposals must be submitted to the research council’s Je-S system. Applicants should select:

  • council: NERC
  • proposal type: standard proposal
  • scheme: directed
  • call: Environmental Response to Hydrogen Emissions.

Proposals should be submitted following the guidance in NERC research grant and fellowship handbook in the ‘pushing the frontiers’ format.

Required documents include:

  • the proposal form Je-S proforma
  • the case for support, incorporating the capability to deliver (up to two sides of A4), and description of the research project (up to five sides of A4)
  • the justification of resources (up to two sides of A4).

What you must not submit

Documents which are no longer required and should not be attached, include:

  • CVs
  • outline data management plan: successful grant holders will have to work alongside the appropriate environmental data centre to develop a full outline data management plan
  • the project partner’s and other letters of support.

Document requirements

All attachments, with the exception of letters of support and services, facilities and equipment quotes, submitted through the Je-S system, must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm.

Please note that Arial Narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not accepted font types and any proposal including either of these font types will be rejected.

References and footnotes should also be at least 11 point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document.

Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case.

Where you refer to websites, you should note that referees may choose not to use them.

On submission to the council, all non-PDF documents are converted to PDF.

The use of non-standard fonts may result in errors or font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

Additionally, where non-standard fonts are present, and even if the converted PDF document may look unaffected in the Je-S system, when it is imported into the research council’s grants system, some information may be removed.

We therefore recommend that where a document contains any non-standard fonts (for example, scientific notation, diagrams), the document should be converted to PDF prior to attaching it to the proposal.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

All proposals received which meet the eligibility criteria will be assessed by an independent panel of experts.

The funders will use the recommendations of the panel along with the overall funding opportunity requirements and the available budget in making the final funding decisions.

It is expected that you will be notified within two weeks of the panel meeting, which is anticipated to take place in July 2022 (date to be confirmed).

Assessment criteria

The assessment criteria to be used will be as follows:

  • research excellence: relates to the originality and quality of the proposed research and the importance of the questions being addressed as well as the capability of the team to deliver this, including a consideration for the diversity, equity and inclusion in membership of the team
  • fit to scheme: proposals will be directly scored against the degree to which they fit  the required scope to each topic to which they are applying as well as the wider objectives of the ‘environmental response to hydrogen emissions’ funding opportunity.

Feedback

You will be given feedback from the panel summarising the reasons why the proposal was successful or unsuccessful. No further feedback will be available.

COVID-19

UKRI recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities.

We are committed to ensuring that individuals and your wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career(s) that may have been caused by the pandemic, such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of on-going work
  • role changes.

Panel members will be advised to consider the impact that COVID-19 might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal and will be asked to consider your capability and that of the wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, you can highlight this within your application, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity

Dr Joseph Taylor

Email: hydrogen@nerc.ukri.org 

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

Background

The implementation of a hydrogen economy will be a critical part of delivering net zero by 2050 in the UK.

Clean hydrogen production is one of the key recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change as part of the Sixth Carbon Budget.

The UK government announced policies in 2020 to expand the hydrogen economy to deliver energy decarbonised at the point of use.

The 10 point plan (and the subsequent hydrogen strategy announced that the UK is aiming for 5GW (around one Mt per year) of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030.

While hydrogen has some current UK industrial uses (0.7Mt per year), principally for petroleum refining and ammonia production, industrial releases to the environment are thought to have been minimal.

The acute flammability and explosivity of hydrogen at high concentrations are well studied, but the environmental impacts of (more diffuse and sustained) hydrogen release are less well researched.

This research is required to provide evidence of environmental concerns for delivering a hydrogen future.

A 2018 BEIS funded literature review identified a number of evidence gaps which prevent accurate assessment of hydrogen’s environmental impact.

There remain substantial gaps in knowledge on the environmental impacts of increased hydrogen release and atmospheric implications of its use.

Recent BEIS commissioned research made progress in understanding the atmospheric composition, radiative forcing, and global warming potential of hydrogen emissions.

But there are still significant gaps in the evidence of the environmental behaviour and impacts of hydrogen which limit the ability to understand the significance of impacts and hence make informed policy decisions.

It is hoped to publish the outcome of this work on the BEIS website during the early period in which this funding opportunity is open.

Programme management

The funders (NERC and BEIS), along with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Department for Transport (DfT) will establish a Programme Executive Board (PEB) to oversee the progress of the programme.

Reporting requirements

Funded grants would be expected to attend a kick-off and then biannual programme meetings to present their ongoing results and stimulate discussion, and encourage beneficial collaboration between projects, specifically in relation to scenario definition.

Due to the  interlinked nature of the topics, it is required that projects share information with each other, and, in addition, work with the knowledge exchange (KE) fellow funded as part of the programme.

Successful projects in each research topic will be required to report at the end of their project to policymakers as well as contribute to the writing of a programme-wide final synthesis report.

It will bring together all of the research topics (for example, synthesising a summary workshop) which would be directly used by BEIS, Defra, and DfT to inform policy decisions.

If you are successful, you will be  required to report research outcomes on Researchfish in line with standard UKRI terms and conditions. This is required annually and continues for up to five years post grant end.

For strategic research investments, NERC additionally requires biannual progress reports.

NERC may require additional information for monitoring and evaluation purposes during the programme lifetime and, according to standard grant terms and conditions, projects may be required to comply with any additional requests.

KE and impact

KE is vital to ensure that environmental research has wide benefits for society and should be an integral part of any research.

Public engagement is a key part of knowledge exchange, and a route to increasing the impact of research.

A separate pathways to impact statement is not required, but applicants should still consider how they will or might achieve impact outside the scientific community and include this as part of their case for support.

Impact activities do not have to be cost-incurring, but relevant costs can be included and must be fully justified within the justification of resources statement.

All funded projects may also be required to engage with programme-wide KE activities, led by the KE fellow (to be awarded following this funding opportunity).

Responsible business

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, not just through research outputs and outcomes, but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set-out in the NERC responsible business statement.

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities.

Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion.

Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project, not the host institution as a whole, and take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
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