Hydrogen: the new electric?
While hydrogen infrastructure might be lacking at the moment, there are big plans in place to expand the network of refueling stations to drive this zero-emission fuel forward.
Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) have been touted as an alternative to electric vehicles (EVs) for a number of years. Not only are they just as environmentally friendly, perhaps even more so, but they take away the need for lengthy charges and most have a range of around 300 miles.
There are two things currently holding back the rapid adoption of FCEVs however. The first is infrastructure. While there are plenty of plans to roll out new refueling stations for hydrogen vehicles, the infrastructure still doesn’t allow for widespread use of this fuel.
In March this year, ITM Power, Shell, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai formed a consortium and won £8.8mn ($11.86mn) in funding from the Department for Transport to improve access to an expanded network of hydrogen refueling stations in the UK. At the moment, however, it’s Scandinavia and Germany leading the charge for the roll out of FCEVs.
The second barrier to full-scale adoption of these cars is cost. Hydrogen is sold in kilograms rather than volume and current prices are approximately £10 to £15 ($13.50 to $20) per kg. An average FCEV tank holds around 5kg, so a full hydrogen refill would cost between £50 and £75 ($67 and $101). At the moment, hydrogen FCEVs have much higher per-mile costs than EVs or internal combustion engine cars.
For consumers, there’s very little choice available when it comes to cars, but plenty of manufacturers are working on their own FCEV. The Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell are the two most popular models and it’s expected that Honda’s Clarity Fuel Cell car will join them later this year. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz are just some of the manufacturers developing hydrogen fuel cell models, so the market is set to expand over the course of the next few years.
Currently, a more popular use for FCEVs is in the commercial markets. Many police cars, taxis and buses already run on the fuel in cities where there’s already a decent private infrastructure. Three fleets of 60 hydrogen vehicles will be deployed in London, Paris and Brussels as part of the Zero Emission Fleet vehicles for European Roll-out (ZEFER) project.
The €26mn ($31mn) European initiative will introduce 180 FCEVs into a combination of taxi, private-hire and police fleets.
Ben Madden, director at Element Energy told Fleet News: “We are delighted to be leading this major project which will demonstrate commercially viable use cases for hydrogen-fueled vehicles in high mileage urban fleets.
“The increasingly widespread hydrogen infrastructure network in leading European cities as well as new FCEV models from manufacturers are beginning to drive real market adoption.
“We are excited to see first large-scale users starting to take up the technology in large fleets to do the day to day work of vehicles which operate in urban centres.”
The first 25 cars have been deployed in London by Green Tomato Cars, with another 25 due to be delivered in September. These vehicles will offer the same service as current premium taxi services and will be allocated to standard bookings across London and the Home Counties.
Also, in London, the Metropolitan police are using Toyotal Mirai hydrogen cars and trialing hydrogen scooters. In a city where there’s already a decent hydrogen refueling infrastructure, this makes sense.
Many cities are also testing hydrogen buses. Last year, another European project rolled out 144 hydrogen buses and seven new refuellng stations.
The future looks bright for hydrogen vehicles with many countries offering grants and subsidies to help improve the infrastructure. In Kia and Hyundai’s native South Korea, the government offers subsidies to filling station operators to add hydrogen facilities. The goal is to have 310 stations across the country by 2022.
More than 45 stations are planned across Europe as part of the H2ME Project by 2020 with a number of those already active, while over in the USA, it’s California that’s leading the way with 35 of the country’s 39 public refueling stations. The pioneering state also has another 29 planned.
Despite the limited infrastructure, the Hydrogen Council has an optimistic view for the long-term, saying there could be around 10 to 15mn hydrogen-powered cars and 500,000 trucks by 2030 and by 2050 that number could grow to 400mn hydrogen cars and 15 to 20mn trucks.
There’s no doubt there’s a long way to go for FCEVs, but 10 years ago, we were saying the same about electric vehicles.
UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC
The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.
While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.
"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."
The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.
- Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
- Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
- Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
- Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
- Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.
In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies.
Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”
Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society.
Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."
Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).
Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.