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Forterra paving the way to hydrogen

The 20% hydrogen blend had no impact on brick colour, texture, performance or durability
The 20% hydrogen blend had no impact on brick colour, texture, performance or durability

First phase of hydrogen blend fuel trials successfully completed at Measham brick factory

AS part of Forterra’s extensive future-proofing strategy, the company has completed the first phase of hydrogen trials at its Measham brickworks factory in north-west Leicestershire.

Whilst proposals for the inclusion of hydrogen into the national grid are still in their infancy, Forterra have adopted a proactive approach, extensively trialling 20% hydrogen blends across their brick ranges.

 

This forward-thinking strategy will allow the company to assess the possible effects of hydrogen on its products, processes, and equipment, well in advance of any changes to government policy.

David Fox, capital engineering manager at Forterra, explained: ‘Our main priority is to determine whether the use of hydrogen blends would have any aesthetic or performance-related impacts on the finished product, and whether the blend can be used with existing kiln equipment.

The 20% hydrogen blend is fully compatible with existing kiln equipment
The 20% hydrogen blend is fully compatible with existing kiln equipment

‘Our bricks are renowned for their unique range of textures and colours and for their high performance and durability. We are, therefore, glad to have had our predictions confirmed: the 20% hydrogen blend shows no impact on these criteria. Moreover, it is fully compatible with existing kiln equipment.

‘The latter is especially encouraging. Our kiln equipment tends to have a lifespan of between 25 and 40 years, so replacing it would incur significant carbon costs.’

Instead of constructing trial-specific kilns, Forterra used existing machinery to see if their current legacy kiln equipment could adapt to the new hydrogen blend.

In addition, the company partnered with Air Products, a leading chemical industry company, who provided a hydrogen storage facility and a pressure and flow regulation system. This collaboration allowed Forterra to blend different percentages of hydrogen with natural gas for the purposes of the trial.

Air Products provided a hydrogen storage facility and a pressure and flow regulation system
Air Products provided a hydrogen storage facility and a pressure and flow regulation system

To ensure consistency in the testing process, the company tested its Measham buff bricks and Desford red bricks, with special attention given to maintaining the distinctive red hue of the bricks.

As a reducing agent, hydrogen can reduce the amount of oxidation that takes place within the kiln and, therefore, potentially affect the final colouration of the brick product. To offset this, oxygen levels had to be carefully monitored and adapted during the trials, to ensure the renowned rich red hue of the final brick was maintained.

Forterra say the initial results from these trials have suggested that there are no major impacts to brick quality, aesthetic appeal, or to the kiln when using the 20% hydrogen blend. The next step is to observe the effects of this blend of hydrogen on different types of clay, to determine whether the blend could be implemented with equal capacity across the company’s range of brickworks.

Forterra say that as decarbonization becomes a critical objective for industries worldwide, the 7% reduction in carbon output achieved through the use of hydrogen fuel in these trials is a welcome bonus. Moreover, the hydrogen trials align with the company’s broader commitment to achieving ambitious environmental, social, and governance (ESG) targets.

This commitment is reflected in other developments and investments made over the past year, including a solar farm, a new fleet of fuel-efficient trucks, and new reduced-plastic packaging solutions. Forterra also opened their brand-new Desford factory in May 2023, which is said to be the biggest, most efficient brick factory in Europe.

 

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