Planning chiefs have approved a ground-breaking hydrogen facility in Cheshire, despite questions being raised over the technology’s true green credentials.

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning committee gave the go-ahead to plans by Essar Oil subsidiary Essar Energy Transition (EET) for the first large scale, low carbon hydrogen production plant in the UK located at the Stanlow Manufacturing Complex in Ellesmere Port.

The plant will produce low carbon hydrogen fuel by the process of reforming natural gas, capturing approximately 97 per cent of produced CO2 to allow for its storage as part of a wider related nationally significant infrastructure project.

Consisting of two plants, the new ‘hydrogen hub’ will enable local industrial and power generation businesses to switch from fossil fuels to low carbon energy. The company said this will help to reduce the North West ’s carbon emissions by 2.5 million tonnes every year.

Speaking at the meeting. Richard Holden, project manager at EET Hydrogen, said: “We are the first and most advanced ‘at scale’ low carbon hydrogen production project in the UK, which means we are one of the most advanced in the world right now.

“If I talk about scale, this project will produce more than one gigawatt of low carbon hydrogen. That’s enough energy to power a city the size of Liverpool and in doing so, we will capture more than two million tonnes a year of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of taking more than one million cars off UK roads.”

But debate has raged worldwide about the green credentials of the technology. While hydrogen itself is considered a clean fuel, the process of making it usable also requires energy.

This energy can either use renewable sources like wind, water or solar – known as ‘green hydrogen’. Or it can use natural gas, with the resulting carbon emissions captured and stored underground.

This is known as ‘blue hydrogen’, and it is the latter which continues to cause some controversy.

Speaking at the meeting councillor John Roach, Green Party councillor for Whitby Park, said: “I believe creating a reliance on hydrogen that’s a replacement for burning fossil fuels would negatively impact this country’s ability to reach a carbon net zero. I therefore believe this application should be refused.”

“I believe the report presented to you today is seriously flawed. It fails to acknowledge there is much debate concerning the green credentials for the production and use of hydrogen as a fuel.

“Many organisations, experts and environmental commentators regard blue hydrogen production as a dirty technology. The adoption of which would prevent the country meeting its carbon net zero targets.

“The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis recently concluded that blue hydrogen is not green, is not low carbon, and offers no solution to the climate crisis.”

Planning chiefs voted to approve the plans and once up and running, the hydrogen will be used locally by the Essar refinery and other major manufacturers in the region, including Tata Chemicals, Encirc and Pilkington to create the first low carbon refining operations, glass and chemicals manufacturing sites in the world.

The firm said its EET Hydrogen hub will help to secure and grow vital industries, create jobs and unlock billions of pounds of related investment.

EET will develop the hydrogen hub in phases with the first plant at 350MW capacity, the second at 1,000MW capacity and an overall target capacity of more than 4,000MW by 2030.

The development forms a central part of the HyNet North West Project to provide infrastructure to produce, transport and store low carbon hydrogen across the North West and North Wales.

Construction is anticipated to start in 2024 with low carbon hydrogen produced at the site by 2027.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Holden from ET Hydrogen said: “This is the largest low carbon hydrogen project in the UK and one of the most advanced in the world. It is a vital piece of the North West’s journey to net zero, underpinning HyNet and providing the opportunity for manufacturers in the region to decarbonise their processes and support UK jobs.

“We have worked closely with regional stakeholders and are delighted to obtain this important approval for the project as we move from ambition to action.”

And David Parkin, HyNet project director at Progressive Energy, said: "We are delighted that HyNet’s low carbon hydrogen hub has been given the green light to begin construction. The plant will provide locally produced hydrogen to industry across the region, enabling them to switch their fuel to a low carbon alternative.

"Owned by EET Hydrogen and located at the Stanlow Manufacturing Complex, this will be the UK’s first large scale, low carbon hydrogen production facility, placing the North West region at the forefront of the UK’s journey towards net zero carbon emissions. The plant will support the creation of new jobs, safeguard existing roles and attract investment."