Industry-wide hydrogen infrastructure is needed across the UK to support the rollout of zero emissions transport, argues Haskel Hydrogen Systems Group’s Stephen Learney

Against the backdrop of COP26, where leading nations and world leaders came together to address the global climate crisis, it’s clear that hydrogen has a strong role to play in the drive to net zero. Translating the various pledges made by heads of state during COP26 into action will require an array of measures to deliver global net zero by 2050.

The UK is establishing itself as a hydrogen leader. However, other regions and countries with defined hydrogen strategies and investment in place are also making great strides, such as Europe, China/south-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Hydrogen has great potential to play an important role in the UK’s green recovery and its drive towards net zero by 2050. The UK government recently published its much-anticipated Hydrogen Strategy, setting out:

The UK’s commitment to achieving 5GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030;
Its aim of establishing a mature hydrogen economy into the 2030s, creating over 9,000 UK jobs, rising to £13bn of GVA and 100,000 new jobs by 2050, and unlocking £4bn of investment into the hydrogen economy by 2030;
The significant role hydrogen will play as part of the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget and future net zero energy mix.

The hydrogen mobility opportunity is huge. Hydrogen and zero emission mobility are crucial if we are to accelerate the shift to sustainable mobility, which includes all modes of transport. This article will examine how we can get industry-wide hydrogen infrastructure in place, highlighting what that needs to look like in 2030 to make our hydrogen transport dreams a reality.

Growth in hydrogen refuelling for mobility

The hydrogen refuelling market in the mobility space is growing and there are opportunities for collaboration and cooperation with the wider transport industry. Cost-efficient hydrogen solutions are one challenge that we face in getting hydrogen mobility into the mainstream and at scale.

The Hydrogen Council published a report last year that highlighted this specific challenge. The report explains that hydrogen distribution and retail costs represent the most significant part of the overall cost of hydrogen faced by the large passenger vehicle end user, accounting for about 60 per cent. While costs are primarily the consequence of low utilisation, I believe there’s a lot that manufacturers of hydrogen refuelling stations could do in order to make sure that hydrogen can be a competitive fuel for transport.

This challenge isn’t new to us – think back to the Ford Model N, which predates the mass production Model T. It has taken 108 years to get from there to the advanced technology we have today, such as a vehicle like the Toyota Mirai. However, the major difference here is that we can’t wait 108 years to make this advance, because the world doesn’t have that amount of time to decarbonise the mobility sector. Instead, we need to be aiming to do this in the next decade or sooner.

How can we accelerate this shift?

To answer the challenge that the Hydrogen Council highlights in its report around the high costs to end users and the ways in which we can drive the cost of hydrogen refuelling stations in a direction that will facilitate growing this market as quickly as possible, we need to do a number of things:

Standardisation: Vehicle manufacturers, infrastructure developers and station engineers need to work closely to address the standardisation issue. At Haskel, we’ve taken steps ourselves towards addressing this – we’ve created a standard range of small stations for those who need to demonstrate or test refuelling capability (350bar, 700bar or dual pressure dispensing). We’re already pre-engineering these as we’ve identified demand from customers. On the large-scale side of things, we’ve developed a range of refuelling stations to address the same issue, pre-engineering what we think are the most needed applications and styles of station to meet the demands of today’s market of cars, buses, trucks and trains. Pre-engineering allows us to shorten the engineering time significantly and strengthens alignment with the supply chain, which is vital. This allows companies within the supply chain to do their own engineering to scale their business and align with the industry as a whole.
Volume: Standardisation will drive costs down and shorten conversations between users and station engineers – this then accelerates the rollout of refuelling infrastructure. Looking back historically, an example I like to refer to which brings this to life is two images taken during Easter Parade on New York 5th Avenue, one in 1900 and the other in 1913. Despite cars being more of a luxury good and more expensive than horse-drawn transport, the second image in 1913 highlighted that cars had virtually replaced horses within a 13-year period. Therefore, if hydrogen supply meets demand, this can be achieved – when demand is there, people will invest and pay more.
Consolidation: We’re already seeing the developments of what we are doing in mobility have a place in other parts of the value chain. Specifically, the compression, storage and movement technology used for hydrogen refuelling stations can be used in some of the emerging power-to-x value chain. Therefore, there’s an opportunity for consolidation of activity and technology.
Technology: Investment in technology will drive reductions in capex and opex. We need to be doing this just to meet the projected demands over the coming years. We also need to see the development of more efficient stations that are capable of higher volume and high flow to be able to meet the growing demands of the market, as the technology is adopted and becomes more mainstream.

These key components will help to drive costs down and accelerate market development.

The need for standardisation is crucial, as this will in turn help to drive volume. There’s an opportunity for consolidation of applications across the value chain and where common technologies could serve multiple value chains. However, there are many more challenges ahead to successfully scale up, such as increasing the number of companies in the supply chain, adding capacity and choice, and driving innovation. Lastly, we need to develop our skills base to realise our hydrogen transport objectives and further strengthen the UK’s position as a hydrogen leader.

Stephen Learney is vice president and general manager of Haskel Hydrogen Systems Group.

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