Hydrogen is fascinating. Its versatility allows multiple usages, as a fuel or as feedstock, for transport, for power, for heating and cooling as well as for industry. A wind farm could help decarbonise a council’s fleet of vehicles, while a solar farm could help decarbonise a steel manufacturing plant, thanks to the energy carrier that is hydrogen. Nothing else can do that.
Hydrogen can help enable the deep decarbonisation of the energy system and of the transport sector in particular. With 25% of GHG emissions attributable to transport, and the requirement to reduce them by 95% by 2050, there is no other way than to opt for massive electrification of transport, spurred by the introduction of renewables, including both battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Without such electric powertrains, the long-term climate goals cannot be achieved. Fuel cell vehicles can be refuelled rapidly at hydrogen refuelling stations (HRS) and offer emission-free long-range driving without changing personal habits.
Legislation is keeping up. With the Clean Energy Package and Clean Mobility Package, the European Commission has started an unprecedented process which will see a rapid rise in FCEV numbers in the coming decade. Indeed, the new “raison d’etre” of the Renewable Energy Directive recast is to enable renewable energy to enter the transport sector via different pathways, including hydrogen. On the tank-to-wheel basis, the Clean Vehicle Directive, for example, will enable green public procurement of vehicles. This legislation will incentivise public authorities to transform their fleets into clean vehicles and hydrogen once again, is particularly well-suited for the job.
There are many examples in Europe of how hydrogen has been used to reduce CO2 emissions, while improving air quality and the environment. In France, one example is the fleet of hydrogen taxis HYPE in Paris. From only 5 vehicles at the beginning in 2015, the fleet is now 100 vehicles and growing, and there are similar deployment plans for other cities and regions. The range offered by FCEVs alongside the ease to refuel and the comfort of a quiet drive without vibrations provides unequalled solace for drivers, passengers and city-dwellers, and yields no harmful emissions from the exhaust pipe. Similarly, fleets of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) equipped with hydrogen range extenders are providing greater flexibility for operators of commercial fleets. In the UK, the Hydrogen Transport Programme was launched in 2017 by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, with a budget of £23 million to support the roll-out of publicly accessible HRS and increase the number of FCEVs on British roads. As part of this, police cars and taxis are among nearly 200 new FCEVs switching to zero emission miles. Is there a future for hydrogen cars? We definitely think so!
Nonetheless there are still barriers to the full deployment of FCEVs: a recurring one is the lack of infrastructure. Slowly but surely, this chicken and egg issue between vehicles and refuelling infrastructure is being resolved. H2ME, a project supported by the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), aims to deploy 47 hydrogen refuelling stations across 7 countries. These refuelling stations allow a refill in less than 5 minutes, with enough energy to travel 350+ miles. ITM Power, a Sheffield-based manufacturing company, is regularly in the news when it comes to refuelling stations in the UK. Recently, a hydrogen pump has been integrated “under the canopy” into an existing station at Beaconsfield, where hydrogen sits on the main forecourt, alongside the petrol and diesel pumps.
In parallel, hydrogen for heavy duty and long-haul applications is also on the rise. A contract has been signed between Nikola Motor Corporation, a US company that develops trucks, and NEL Hydrogen. The contract includes an initial order for a pre-engineering package of around $1.5m, where NEL will develop a station design, including electrolysers, specifically made for fast fuelling of Nikola trucks. The ultimate aim of the overall contract is for NEL Hydrogen to provide a total of 448 HRS to Nikola Motor Corporation. NEL Hydrogen also received orders from Denmark and Germany through the projects Brintpuljen and H2mobility as well as Uno-x in Norway. It’s a promising future for long-haul applications where options to fully decarbonise the sector are reduced to hydrogen. Regarding hydrogen buses, more than 10 million kilometres have been driven by 31st March 2018. It is possible to enjoy a ride in London where 10 buses are in operation and a further 26 will shortly be deployed, or in Aberdeen where there are another 10 on the road plus 10 in the pipeline. Dundee and Birmingham will follow, adding a further 30 buses.
But hydrogen isn’t limited to road transport. After successful tests by Alstom with their hydrogen trains, the German Government recently approved these vehicles for transporting passengers: you will soon be able to buy your ticket and board a hydrogen train! These trains are also coming to the UK where a large part of the network isn’t electrified. Upgrading a network is unlikely to be an economically viable option and hydrogen is found to be the best alternative to diesel. Again, the comfort provided by the silence without vibrations along with the range and zero emissions makes hydrogen and fuel cells an unequalled fuel/technology solution for railway applications. In a UK context where Government has decided to remove diesel rolling stocks by 2040, hydrogen is key.