Skip to content
Back to news

GW-SHIFT: developing a hydrogen supercluster in South West England and South Wales

Professor Tim Mays
Professor Tim Mays
GW-SHIFT Co-Director and Director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment, University of Bath
Professor Xiaohong Li
Professor Xiaohong Li
GW-SHIFT Co-Director and Director of Global Development, University of Exeter
Dr James Courtney
Dr James Courtney
GW-SHIFT Co-Investigator and lecturer in Chemical Engineering, Swansea University
Dr Jemma Rowlandson
Dr Jemma Rowlandson
GW-SHIFT Co-Investigator and lecturer in Thermodynamics, University of Bristol
Professor Agustin Valera-Medina
Professor Agustin Valera-Medina
GW-SHIFT Co-Investigator and Director of the Net Zero Innovation Institute, Cardiff University
Professor Deborah Greaves
Professor Deborah Greaves
GW-SHIFT Co-Investigator and Director of the Centre for Decarbonisation and ORE, University of Plymouth
Dr Yeaw Chu Lee
Dr Yeaw Chu Lee
GW-SHIFT Co-Investigator and Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering, University of Plymouth
Jon Maddy
Jon Maddy
GW-SHIFT Co-Investigator and Hydrogen Centre Manager, University of South Wales




As part of Hydrogen Week 2024, which aims to celebrate and promote the role of hydrogen in reaching Net Zero, we will be shining a spotlight on our GW4 Hydrogen activity.

Hydrogen is central to reaching Net Zero emissions, providing a low carbon fuel which can help us switch to a greener future. Developing a hydrogen economy will also unlock investment, secure and create jobs and boost supply chain opportunities.

The multimillion pound project ‘GW-SHIFT: Great Western Supercluster of Hydrogen Impact for Future Technologies’ is bringing together academic, civic and industry partners to work together to unlock the huge potential of our region’s hydrogen ecosystem providing solutions for storage and distribution, transport, and the energy sector.

Each day, throughout Hydrogen Week 2024, we will be sharing a blog post from the lead of one of the projects five themes:

GW-SHIFT – developing a hydrogen supercluster

We start with an overview of the project from Co-Directors Professor Tim Mays, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at University of Bath, and Professor Xiaohong Li, Director of Global Development at University of Exeter.

The Great Western Supercluster of Hydrogen Impact for Future Technologies (GW-SHIFT) is a unique two country programme to develop and accelerate delivery of impact activities for the emerging hydrogen research and innovation cluster across the South West of England and South Wales. The programme will support these regions to decarbonise different sectors and accelerate the journey to Net Zero. GW-SHIFT is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as a flagship Place Based Impact Acceleration Account.

GW-SHIFT brings together ambitious civic organisations (including Western Gateway, Welsh Government, Great South West, West of England Combined Authority, Swindon & Wiltshire LEP, Cornwall & Isle of Scilly LEP), key industry partners (including Hydrogen South West, GKN Aerospace, Airbus, Johnson Matthey, National Composites Centre, Net Zero Industry Wales, Wales and West Utilities, TNO), and a number of SMEs (including SETSquared partnership), and world-class academic institutions (the GW4 Alliance of the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, alongside Swansea, South Wales and Plymouth). These key regional partnerships will build hydrogen networks and capacity, deliver high impact projects and engage widely with stakeholder communities.

The ambition of GW-SHIFT is to grow from an emerging cluster to an established supercluster which is uniquely placed in the South West of England and South Wales to lead the delivery of the green hydrogen economies needed to decarbonise the UK, driving joined-up impact that spans multiple sectors (maritime, road, rail, aerospace, chemicals) across the region’s unique testbed of urban, rural, and coastal areas and resources.

Hydrogen Production

Dr James Courtney, lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Swansea University and lead for the GW-SHIFT theme Hydrogen Production shares more about this exciting opportunity for the region and the different ways to produce hydrogen.

Right now, we have the opportunity to use technology to avoid a catastrophic climate change event. The use of hydrogen and its associated technologies is key to this opportunity. The UK, the South West of England and the South Wales region can use local geographical advantages to provide a prosperous and exciting future. Particularly exciting is the prospect of developing hydrogen production across the area, with new links, new business and new understanding, harnessing the potential on our doorstep.

World leading experts across the region, from the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Plymouth, South Wales and Swansea, have combined with civic leaders and cutting-edge industrial champions to form GW-SHIFT. Focussed on delivering specific, long-term and effective impact across the area. The hydrogen economy is underpinned by the technologies, systems and companies that will produce hydrogen. A key advantage to the use of hydrogen is that there are a multitude of ways to produce it, from electrolysis of water to the conversion of waste bio-mass.

One focus is on the delivery of green electrolytic hydrogen, offering a link between the incredible renewable resources available and a reliable energy system. GW-SHIFT aims to enhance these links and innovations with match funded industry projects or secondments across industries and sectors.

The role of critical materials across the hydrogen value chain, and particularly their role in hydrogen production, is a significant personal interest. The super cluster will advance new products and services giving the opportunity to explore the role of recycling and the circular economy leading to a truly sustainable and prosperous region.

Storage and Distribution

Dr Jemma Rowlandson, a lecturer in Thermodynamics at University of Bristol, and lead for the GW-SHIFT theme Storage & Distribution explains hydrogen’s unique energy profile and how it could offer a versatile storage solution for renewable energy

Hydrogen has the potential to revolutionise the energy landscape by reducing carbon emissions and enhancing energy security, aligning with global net zero initiatives.

Hydrogen Has a Unique Energy Profile

One aspect that sets hydrogen apart is its incredible gravimetric energy density – the highest of any chemical fuel known to mankind! However, despite a high energy content by weight one of hydrogen’s biggest hurdles is that by volume it has a very low energy density. This discrepancy poses a significant challenge for the transportation and storage of hydrogen, especially in mobile applications where space and weight are at a premium. The challenge is illustrated in Figure 1 – our conventional fossil fuels have an excellent balance of volumetric and gravimetric energy density, while hydrogen requires additional storage solutions to increase the volumetric energy density and make it viable.

A Range of Storage Solutions

To harness the full potential of hydrogen as an energy carrier we need storage solutions. These solutions aim to increase hydrogen's volumetric energy density, making it more practical for a wide range of applications. We can store hydrogen using physical or chemical methods.

Physical Hydrogen Storage:
Widely used in commercial applications, physical hydrogen storage involves compressing hydrogen gas to high pressures (up to 700 bar) or liquifying it at extremely low temperatures (-253 °C). These methods are both very effective ways of storing hydrogen, however they do require a significant energy input and advanced materials to handle these extreme conditions.

Chemical Hydrogen Storage:
An exciting and rapidly growing area is using chemical methods to store hydrogen as a solid. Hydrogen can be stored within a material (such as metal hydrides) or on the surface (such as nanoporous materials). These technologies are promising for storing hydrogen at potentially higher energy densities without the need for extreme temperatures and pressures.

Hydrogen: A Potential Player in Renewable Energy Storage

Beyond its direct use as a fuel, hydrogen could offer a versatile storage solution for intermittent renewable energy. As shown in Figure 2, hydrogen could play a crucial role in the medium to long-term storage of renewable energy, complementing other storage technologies. Applications could include peak shaving, where excess renewable energy can be converted to hydrogen and stored using physical or chemical methods, or even at scale even underground in disused caverns. The stored energy can then be reintegrated into the grid through reaction in fuels cells or combustion. By focusing on innovative storage methods and integrating hydrogen into our renewable network we can move closer to achieving a net-zero future.

Hydrogen Conversion

Professor Agustin Valera-Medina, Director of the Net Zero Innovation Institute at Cardiff University is the lead for the GW-SHIFT theme Conversion and explains the role of ammonia and other materials in hydrogen conversion.

A hydrogen economy has been the focus of researchers and developers over decades. Interestingly, the complexity of moving and storing hydrogen has always been a major obstacle to deploying the concept fully. Therefore, other materials can be employed to support the handling of hydrogen whilst reducing cost over long distances and long storage periods.
Ammonia, a molecule with high hydrogen content, can be used to store and distribute hydrogen easily, as the molecule has been employed for more than 150 years for fertilizing purposes. Being a carbon-free chemical, ammonia (NH3) has the potential to support a hydrogen transition thus decarbonising transport, power and industries. Further, using ammonia directly can reduce costs and cycle inefficiencies. However, the complexity of using ammonia for power generation, transport and heating relies on the appropriate use of the chemical to reach high power outputs combined with low emission profiles. A variety of heat and power systems are currently under scrutiny for the direct use of ammonia as a fuel. Expertise on the subject is increasing and several units are being tested to progress in the utilization of the chemical in an efficient, stable and low polluting manner. However, progress comes with several challenges.

Importantly, the UK is currently positioning itself as a European champion in the use of ammonia for energy delivery, hence opening a variety of opportunities to create the foundations for a hydrogen-through-ammonia market. Similarly, other vectors such as methanol can be evaluated for the movement of hydrogen and use of the molecule through relatively simple retrofitting exercises. The concept promises to reduce CO2 by recirculating the molecule from the atmosphere and chemical processes, whilst using green or blue hydrogen that supports Net Zero carbon use towards the transition of a real zero society based on hydrogen-rich molecules. Other vectors, of similar importance, will be subject to evaluation and analysis via the Conversion Task of GW-SHIFT.

End-use applications

Professor Deborah Greaves, Director of the Centre for Decarbonisation and ORE at the University of Plymouth and Dr Yeaw Chu Lee, Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Plymouth are the GW-SHIFT theme leads for End-use applications. In their post they explore how hydrogen can impact traditional hard to decarbonise sectors such as aviation and shipping.

The UK has ambitious plans for hydrogen as part of its strategy to reach Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and has set ambitious targets for low carbon hydrogen production, including green hydrogen, produced via electrolysis from renewable energy sources. Although much of our CO2 emissions can be abated by electrification, some sectors are hard to decarbonise, including cement, chemicals, glass, plastics, new steel, aviation, and maritime. Within the GW-SHIFT region, there is great opportunity for hydrogen to impact across these difficult to decarbonise sectors.

Unlocking the full potential demand for hydrogen will require strong demonstration efforts over the next decade in hydrogen end-use applications in heavy industry, long-distance road transport, aviation and shipping. Major aerospace companies based in the region are exploring the potential of hydrogen as an aviation fuel for green long-haul flights in the design of next generation aircrafts. Research in the maritime sector is pioneering development of hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels, such as ammonia and methanol, to replace fossil fuels. Hydrogen fuel cell technology has a role in powering zero emission vehicles for uses where batteries are less well suited, such as buses, rail, long-haul road freight.

The GW-SHIFT region has opportunities for green hydrogen heating in large industrial facilities for production of steel, cement, glass, gas, and utilities as well as decarbonising heating in homes, alongside heat recovery systems such as heat pumps. The first leasing round for offshore wind development sites in the Celtic Sea was launched this year, creating potential synergy with green hydrogen production. High penetration levels of variable renewable energy sources will require increased energy storage capacity, and hydrogen presents the potential to provide energy storage and to replace fossil fuels. Green hydrogen can be stored over extended periods, and can either be reconverted into electricity using fuel cells, gas turbines, or used directly as fuel.

GW-SHIFT will enable translation of Hydrogen production and storage research into innovative solutions across air, land and sea, leveraging research excellence and regional facilities.

Industrial Feedstocks

Jon Maddy, Hydrogen Centre Manager at University of South Wales and GW-SHIFT theme lead for Industrial feedstocks explains the vital role hydrogen can play in transitioning the industrial sector from fossil fuel-based production and achieving Net Zero industry.

The industrial sector is pivotal in decarbonisation efforts, and transition to the use of hydrogen as a feedstock or for fuel switching is increasingly recognised as an essential part of the reduction of our reliance on fossil fuels in industry. The UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy indicated that up to 500TWh of low carbon hydrogen generation would be needed to reach Net Zero by 2050, with a major proportion being directed to industrial feed and fuel switching. Recent analysis through the UK industrial decarbonisation challenge, particularly through the South Wales Industrial Cluster, has confirmed the increasing importance of hydrogen in making the transition from fossil fuel-based production and achieving Net Zero industry.

Core industries such as steel manufacture have traditionally relied heavily on fossil fuels, resulting in a high carbon footprint. Alongside electrification and CCUS, hydrogen offers a pathway to steel decarbonisation by substituting hydrogen for coal as the means to reducing iron ore, or replacing natural gas for heating processes, drastically reducing carbon emissions. Numerous other industries, large or small can also switch from fossil fuel process heating toward hydrogen, particularly for high temperature processes.

Hydrogen, together with captured CO2 also offers potential for a radical reshaping of the chemical industry and the development of sustainable processes to manufacture high value platform chemicals, displacing fossil fuels and reducing carbon emissions. Alongside this, the decarbonisation of the energy sector will not only rely on massive deployment of renewable production, but on the use of hydrogen for long duration energy storage and dispatchable power production.

Achieving these goals will require innovation and technological advancement. GW-SHIFT will enable further close engagement between academics and industry to conduct impactful research to ensure hydrogen-based processes play a pivotal role in mitigating climate change and advancing towards a low-carbon economy.

Get involved

There are many ways to get involved with GW-SHIFT, from participating in the high-impact projects, to receiving entrepreneurship training. Please look out for future information and if you have any particular questions related to hydrogen or GW-SHIFT, please contact the team.


University of Bath
University of Bristol
Cardiff University
University of Exeter