An anticipated six awards across the three topics will be funded.
Projects must start in October 2022 and last no longer than 24 months.
One project, with a maximum budget to UKRI of £900,000.
One project, with a maximum budget to UKRI of £1,350,000.
At least four projects, with a maximum budget to UKRI of £400,000 each.
The total budget for this funding opportunity is £3,850,000.
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
- surface transport
- 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.
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.
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.