Enlarge / Natural gas meters are fixed to the outside of residential townhouses and apartments Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Three natural gas distributors issued a report this week detailing plans to convert the UK's residential gas system to a hydrogen delivery system. UK firms Northern Gas Networks and Cadent, as well as Norwegian gas firm Equinor, wrote that the proposal (PDF) was technically feasible. They also suggested an initial roll-out of the program to 3.7 million homes and 400,000 businesses in Northern England could commence as soon as 2028.

"This project could represent the foundations of a deliverable, large-scale, deep decarbonization of heat policy for the UK government," the gas firms' report reads.

The plan calls for the conversion of residential natural gas pipes to higher-pressure pipes that can move hydrogen gas. Although hydrogen gas tends to be flammable at a wider range of temperatures than natural gas, the report states that "a 100 percent hydrogen gas grid represents an acceptable risk compared to the current natural gas grid."

This supposes that hydrogen will be synthesized at centralized facilities using methane reformation, outfitted with a carbon capture system that could store any excess carbon in underwater aquifers off the coast of England. This scheme could reduce carbon emissions from natural gas heating by 92 percent, per the report.

According to S&P Global Platts, the project would cost £22.7 billion ($29.2 billion) and take seven years to complete. An additional 12 million homes around England, including some in London, could be converted by 2050. For the initial buildout, the report estimates that the conversion would increase consumers' gas bills by seven percent.

The gas firms added that, in a scenario where they could build out maximum capacity, such a gas network would also be able to fill fuel cell vehicles, adding another vector of reduced carbonization to the plan.

In a press release, Northern Gas Networks says that cooking and heating using natural gas contribute to 30 percent of the UK's carbon emissions. The UK has been more aggressive about curbing carbon emissions than the US. In 2015, the country stated that its goal was to close all coal-fired power plants in the country by 2025, and in 2017, the UK electrical grid had its first coal-free day. In March of this year, the country's Communities Secretary rejected an open-pit coal mine on climate change concerns.

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