A new partnership has been created of 13 industry participants and three UK government departments to position the country to begin the commercial roll-out of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in 2014/15, business minister Mark Prisk announced today.
The new programme, called UKH2Mobility, will evaluate the potential for hydrogen as a fuel for Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles in the UK, before developing an action plan for an anticipated roll-out to consumers in 2014/15.
Its partners include big names like Daimler, Hyundai, Johnson Matthey, Nissan, Scottish and Southern Energy, Tata Motors, Toyota and Vauxhall, as well as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for Transport and the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
One of the initiative's partners is Air Products, the world's largest producer of hydrogen gas. Its European business manager for Hydrogen, Diana Raine, told EAEM: "Today there are no companies producing commercial hydrogen vehicles in the UK and so no demand to improve the tiny existing refuelling infrastructure.
"This initiative is about trying to get out of this chicken-and-egg situation to map out a way to make both happen, economically."
The project will analyse the specific UK case for the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles and look at what's needed to commercialise the technology and make the UK a leading global player.
Speaking at the launch of UKH2Mobility at the Royal Society, Mark Prisk said: “The government is supporting this market by investing ￡400 million to support the development, demonstration and deployment of low and ultra-low emission vehicles.
“Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are highly efficient, can be fuelled in minutes, travel an equivalent range to a conventional combustion engine, and have zero tail-pipe emissions."
The UK has several companies that are developing exciting technologies in both the hydrogen energy and automotive value chains.
One of these is Nissan. Its vice-president for vehicle design and development, Jerry Hardcastle, said the consortium will lay many of the foundations for an important future industry that will begin the commercial roll-out of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from 2014/15.
Dr Henri Winand, chief executive of Intelligent Energy, said: “Fuel cell vehicles, storage and refuelling technology are here today, they work! We now need to look at how we can make these elements, together with the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, work most effectively to enable the UK to take full advantage of hydrogen as a transport fuel”.
Diana Raine told EAEM that the plan is likely to involve the development of existing fuelling stations into clusters, and then to link these by corridors where drivers can refuel.
Air Products already has 11 fuelling stations in the country, including Transport for London's RB1 route, which boasts eight hydrogen buses.
A 'refuelling ring' in the Midlands is projected with a Coventry University spinout company developing a hydrogen microcab service.
A project in Stornaway also runs hydrogen vans, a London fuelling station network currently has four or five stations and plans to be fuelling taxis and scooters in the summer, and Glamorgan is developing the 'hydrogen highway' of the M4 in South Wales.
A new company called Riversimple is also planning to lease hydrogen cars in cities, beginning with Leicester.
Most of the major car manufacturers have one or more hydrogen fuel cell cars at the prototype stage. Most of these use a hydrogen PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cell.
Los Angeles now hosts the world's largest hub for hydrogen vehicles, and here these cars are leased for around $600 a month.
In the UK the Plug-in Car Grant of up to £5,000 towards the cost of buying certain green cars, is open to all vehicles meeting the performance criteria, including hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
But how green are they? All the hydrogen in the UK is currently produced by steam methane reforming of natural gas, which has a commonly assumed carbon intensity of 99.7g CO2e/MJ.
If produced from renewable sources, its carbon intensity would be reduced by about 90%, according to Ricardo's lifecycle emissions comparison of all vehicles, which received much coverage when it was published last summer.
Air Products is already producing hydrogen renewably, from the methane digestion of municipal waste in California.
Diana Raine says that it has plans for a similar large plant in London.
"This initiative is about stimulating the market to create a demand for hydrogen that will make it economic for firms to come forward and generate hydrogen from renewable sources," she told EaEM.
Another method of creating hydrogen is via the electrolysis of water, which separates it into hydrogen and oxygen. This gives it the carbon intensity of the electricity used. Again, if this electricity is renewable, such as an intermittent source like wind or photovoltaic power, it will be almost zero.
The idea of using water to make a fuel to drive vehicles and store electricity using fuel cells, has been the dream of renewable energy visionaries for decades.
But it is still a long way off.
Today, if mains electricity is used to produce the gas then it will have a carbon intensity of about 139g CO2e/MJ (DECC).
By 2020, as the grid decarbonises, the figure will fall to around 86g CO2e/MJ (Committee for Climate Change scenario), slightly less than that of hydrogen made using natural gas.
Hydrogen and fuel cells are therefore an important technology for the storage of intermittently produced renewable electricity.
However, the proportion of embedded CO2 in the lifecycle of a vehicle stemming from its production is increasing with 'green' cars.
This is due to the addition of components such as advanced battery packs, fuel cells, electronic motors and power electronics.
For an electric vehicle, nearly half its lifecycle CO2 emissions could result from production.
A mid-size fuel cell vehicle has only slightly less lifecycle CO2 emissions [kgCO2e] than the same sized petrol-driven vehicle, and certainly about 20% more than the same sized electric vehicle, according to Ricardo's report.
UKH2Mobility will deliver its evaluation of the potential of hydrogen as a transport fuel by the end of 2012.
If the results are positive, an action plan will be developed to work through the steps needed to get the UK ready to be one of the first markets for the global commercial roll out of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.
Story: David Thorpe, News Editor