Discussions on hydrogen as transport fuel have been going on for many years and trials of vehicles like CUTE (Clean Urban Transport for Europe) buses in European cities, including London (2003-05), came and went. The buses themselves were ten times the cost of a diesel equivalent, so extensive rollout at that point was unlikely. In 2011, however a new fleet of eight hydrogen buses has been established by Transport for London (TfL) in London on a more permanent basis.
Crucially, these trials give visibility to the technology, and build confidence in operators and the public that it will work. On the ground in the UK a few niche companies have developed prototype hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) and there have been modest hydrogen vehicle trials in various locations, supported by small scale hydrogen filling facilities set up to service these demonstrators. This has given some exposure of HFCVs to the public as well as government agencies. Many of the major OEMs have HFCVs in development, with Honda recently opening the UK’s first commercial hydrogen filling station at its factory in Swindon, complementing its own HFCV, the FCX Clarity.
A number of OEMs have indicated that they will have HFCVs ready for market by 2015 and this has stimulated infrastructure plans particularly, in Germany, Japan and California.
There are two linked issues that have so far hampered the growth of the industry: lack of fuelling infrastructure and the cost of vehicles. Gas companies will not invest in infrastructure if vehicles are not around to use it; vehicle manufacturers will not commit to full production without the fuel; and vehicles will not come down in price without the economies of scale of mass production.
HFCVs are destined to become an increasing part of the vehicle fleet, along with electric vehicles (EVs). The key advantage of HFCVs over EVs is their ability to be refuelled in just a few minutes, a similar time to liquid fuel cars. In general their range is also greater than EVs.
Government planning acknowledges that HFCVs will form part of the UK fleet in the future, along with hybrids and EVs. A number of OEMs have indicated that they will have HFCVs ready for market by 2015 and this has stimulated infrastructure plans to coincide with this timescale, particularly in Germany, Japan and California, each of which already has numerous trial and public refilling stations.
As the electricity grid becomes greener and renewable sources increase, hydrogen can be used to offset the intermittent power of these systems.
Hydrogen has the potential to be a transport fuel in the post-fossil era, as it is abundant and found in water and organic matter, although it does require energy to extract the gas from these sources.
As the electricity grid becomes greener and renewable sources increase, hydrogen can be used to offset the intermittent power of these systems. For instance, excess wind power at night, when usage is low, can be converted into hydrogen and used later as a transport fuel. With a rising percentage of renewables on the grid, balancing the load will become increasingly important.
The integration of vehicles with the built environment and smart energy grids is destined to grow with electrification of the fleet. EVs and HFCVs plugged in at home can provide power back to the grid when demand is high. So the car becomes part of a holistic integrated energy system.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
For a snapshot of global H2 refuelling points, click here
The AutomotiveWorld.com Expert Opinion column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute an Expert Opinion piece, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org