Hydrogen in construction: working together to achieve net-zero

According to McKinsey, hydrogen is a central piece of the decarbonisation puzzle and a recent cross-industry workshop, hosted by Skanska brought together over 60 industry leaders to discuss the opportunities hydrogen offers to the construction sector.

Led through a consortium-led collaboration between Skanska UK, BAM Nuttall and the Building Research Establishment (BRE), on behalf of Constructing Excellence the one-day workshop showcased current innovation and on-project trials as well as looking at the barriers we need to overcome to implement this new technology. 

David Mason, Head of Environment Technical at Skanska explains why this collaborative approach is so important, “Achieving net-zero in the construction sector is a challenge on which Skanska has been leading the charge for many years, but we know it will never be solved by any individual organisation or solution, and that’s why collaborative events like this are so important. Sharing and learning about the steps contractors, our customers, partners and supply chain have been taking and identifying the key barriers to adopting hydrogen technology is critical to decarbonisation.” 

Kamran Choudhury, Digitalisation Manager at Skanska says, "We are leading the construction sector’s transition away from diesel to sustainable power generation. This collaborative hydrogen stakeholder group, the first of its kind in the UK for construction, will highlight to industry just how zero-emission technology can be adopted to significantly accelerate decarbonisation.”  

Chris Douglas, Senior Procurement Manager for Skanska’s Infrastructure operating unit adds, “Having a reliable supply of low carbon hydrogen is critical to getting powered plant and vehicles in use. Many of these partners were able to attend the event and played a significant role in developing our understanding of how to effectively stimulate investment and demand for zero emission plant. We were able to engage at all levels; with the major traditional fuel suppliers who are looking to move away from carbon-based fuels; UK and international manufacturers as well as specialists who are developing the technologies that need to be trialled and adapted for site use.”

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This is echoed by Colin Evison, Head of Innovation at BAM Nuttall, who believes that the construction industry very much recognises the challenges which stem from its reliance on consuming carbon rich resources. 

“Collaborating with clients and suppliers goes a good way in starting to explore how hydrogen may be part of the solution, as we seek a more sustainable source of fuel for our plant and equipment. The solutions won’t be obvious or easy and only by working together, pooling our knowledge and willingness to change, will we create a significant positive impact.” 

Developing green hydrogen capacity will be fundamental in enabling the construction industry to decarbonise its operations. Besides the significant carbon savings, switching to hydrogen-based power also helps to solve another of the industry’s biggest issues which is air pollution.

Sarah Jolliffe, Carbon Reduction Lead at BAM Nuttall explains further “Hydrogen practically eliminates the problem, whether used as a combustible fuel or through electrolysers. The relationships we have formed throughout trials and at this event have provided valuable insights into how we can move forward more quickly with developing hydrogen-based solutions at scale.”

The scale of the challenge

Dr Ranjit Bassi Senior Consultant at BRE says: "The UK’s construction sites consume over 1 billion litres of diesel/HVO fuel each year and the BRE believe that within 10 years all construction plant over 10 tonnes will be powered by hydrogen. The transition of plant to 100 per cent hydrogen power will be similar to the pattern set by electric cars, with existing plant engines being converted to dual fuel hydrogen/diesel first, before the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) start producing fully hydrogen powered plant."

Showcasing innovation

Over the course of the day, delegates had the opportunity to learn about ways in which Skanska and BAM Nuttall are already adopting hydrogen in their phase 1 projects funded by the Red Diesel Replacement (RDR) programme, which forms part of the £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio funded

by the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). For example, how Cementation Skanska is testing the world’s first hydrogen dual-fuel piling rig and how BAM Nuttall is developing a solution for producing green hydrogen, that will provide zero carbon fuel to construction. 

Addressing the barriers

Adopting any new technology is never a simple task and hydrogen is no different. From stimulating private sector investment to updating standards and regulations, the delegates sought to identify how together the construction industry can accelerate the pace of change, drive further innovation and do that both safely and cost-effectively.

And customer aspirations are clear. Andrea Davidson, Head of Environmental Sciences at HS2 says, “Our ambition is to eliminate diesel on all HS2 construction sites by 2029 and we are proud that to date we have achieved ten diesel-free sites through the hard work from our contractors. Skanska Costain STRABAG JV’s Canterbury Road site was the first to be declared diesel free in May 2022.”

“To reach our goal we are switching to cleaner fuels, using renewable power, the cleanest and fully electric machinery, and continuing to collaborate with the wider industry to set new standards and push the boundaries of green innovation. HS2 is championing the use of environmentally friendly energy solutions across the project, and we are excited to trial, test and roll out cleaner, safer, cost-effective technologies to meet our net zero carbon ambitions.”

Ian Lewis, Executive Director at Thames Estuary Board adds: “We have developed a route map for a hydrogen ecosystem across the Estuary, focusing on where hydrogen can really play to its strengths – heavy on and off-road transport, maritime, high heat industrial and aviation. We took the approach of developing a bankable, commercially viable, set of projects and other interventions. If it's not bankable, it becomes very challenging to deliver. Key to this was establishing a clear picture of demand, which is driven by both the propensity and pace of different users transitions away from fossil fuels. This demand picture is absolutely essential in driving the investment case. The most common barriers we have encountered are availability of fuel, equipment, and cost.” 

Aggregation of demand is key to unlocking these barriers. Investment in fuel supply and production requires clear line of sight to the end customer. Being able to articulate demand across a range of customers is key in creating a cashflow which would underpin the investment.

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Aggregation is also important for the supply of equipment and vehicles, and the same principle applies. OEM’s need to have a clear view of this demand to bring their products into the market. We then have the conundrum where if there are no vehicles available, there is no demand for fuel – and vice versa. The classic chicken and egg situation that we need to unlock. 

All parties believe that aggregation of demand is key to unlocking these barriers. The opportunity going forward is for the group to drive this through the aggregation of demand and demonstrate to the market that there is a range of projects, over a clear period of time, which will require both equipment and fuel will generate that case for investment.

And the investment opportunity is clear for Helena Anderson, Co-Founder at Ikigai Capital, a net-zero bankability consultancy focused on the decarbonisation of core infrastructure assets, cities, regions, and industry. She believes that major construction projects such as HS2 and Lower Thames Crossing create a unique opportunity for hydrogen demand aggregation, pulling forward contracted cash flows, attracting private sector investment and driving down costs throughout the various components of the hydrogen value chain.

Next steps

As a result of this workshop, Skanska and BAM Nuttall are seeking to establish a hydrogen stakeholder group which can further explore the opportunities for adopting hydrogen in the construction sector. 

For further information contact Kate Young.