Category Archives: Transport

Muddle… or Decisive Action?

Students lobbying Councilors to declare a Climate Emergency

Students lobbying Councilors to declare a Climate Emergency

Last Friday Herefordshire Council unanimously declared a Climate Emergency. It was an inspiring day. About a hundred of us old environmental activists were outside the Shirehall when along came about one hundred and seventy young students who had marched chanting from the collages, down Aylestone Hill and through High Town. Our councillors had seldom, if ever, seen so much support for a motion to be passed. Yesterday the same council approved their own Transport Package, which essentially commits them to spending vast sums of money on road building and peanuts for walking, cycling and public transport. This, of course, is exactly the kind of policy that shows they are not serious about the Climate Emergency that they themselves had declared just a few days earlier. It reflects the muddled thinking of governments around the World, who continue to give billions in subsidies to keep the old fossil fuel industries going, while at the same time professing to be concerned about climate change, ecological breakdown and appalling air quality. It is why more and more people are taking to the streets globally, with groups like Extinction Rebellion and School Strike for Climate Action, demanding immediate and decisive action.

This coming Friday, 15th March, there will be a global school strike for climate action. As of this morning 1209 actions in 92 countries have been announced, and many more are being added each day. I follow many of the organisers on Twitter, and these young people, some only ten years old, are so powerful and eloquent speakers. They put most of our elected politicians to shame.

We need to make policy and investment decisions fit to the physical realities of the ecological crisis. Take road building. While our local council’s top priority seems to be to build ever more roads George Monbiot suggests a target of reducing car use by 90% over the next decade. Halting the manufacture, sale and use of fossil fuel cars, lorries and buses is a political decision. As I have repeatedly argued on this blog battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell alternatives already exist, and having most of the cars in car sharing clubs rather than private ownership we can further decrease the damage they do and the space they take up. If we are serious about action on climate change, or children’s health, or the liveability of our cities, then we have to make planning policy decisions in the understanding that the era of the privately owned motor car is over.

Sustainable Shipping goes Commercial


Renault-Neoline. A sailing cargo-ship, due to be in commercial operation by 2020

Last March I posted a blog about the great success of the Ampere, the first regular passenger ferry using battery electric propulsion, rather than diesel engines. It achieved 95% reduction in emissions and an 80% reduction in operating costs. In that blog I argued that it was likely that short routes, such as the Dover – Calais, would probably switch from diesel to renewables before longer, ocean going routes. However a new partnership between the car maker, Renault, and ship building start-up Neoline are planning a predominantly wind powered regular Trans-Atlantic service, due to start operating in 2020.

The picture above shows what they are proposing. It is quite a large roll-on roll-off ship, capable of carrying 478 cars on two decks. Most of the time while at sea it would be entirely sail powered. For manoeuvring in port and times of slack wind a diesel engine is planned. I would like to see Neoline replace this diesel with a hydrogen fuel cell engine. However, even with the diesel engine, emissions are forecast to be 90% lower than conventional ships as essentially this is a new iteration of a sailing ship, although no doubt with smart computer controlled sails.

I have on this blog written about several experimental hydrogen fuel cell ships. Now construction is just beginning on what will be the world’s first regular commercial hydrogen fuel cell ferry. It will be a 70-foot long catamaran, capable of carrying 84 passengers, and will commence operating in San Francisco Bay sometime later this year, initially on a three month trial basis. It will carry sufficient hydrogen for two full days operation.

Combining the sail powered ship designed in France by Neoline and the hydrogen fuel cell ferry under construction in California seems to suggest the path to a truly sustainable global shipping technology. Predominantly wind powered, but with clean hydrogen fuel cell technology for manoeuvring in port and as back up for when the wind is not strong enough. How long will it be before these technologies replace diesel on the huge bulk carriers that criss-cross the planet’s oceans. That would improve local air quality in ports, cut carbon and other emissions, and be quieter and so less disruptive to whales and dolphins, and it might also be considerably cheaper than dirty old diesel. What’s not to like?

Hydrogen is Moving!

A hydrogen refuelling station arrives in Abergavenny

A hydrogen refuelling station arrives in Abergavenny

I’ve written a number of blogs over the years about hydrogen fuel cell technologies, most recently just a couple of weeks ago. It’s a technology that is moving so fast that another blog on the matter is called for.

It is clear governments are not on track to meet the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Progress on decarbonising the electricity sector is being made, but on transport, heating and cooling very little progress has been made. The transport sector may switch from fossil fuels to battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles very rapidly. If the technology is better, cheaper and cleaner it could be very rapid indeed. Hydrogen has several advantages over battery electric vehicles, especially where longer range or heavier vehicles are needed.

The World Hydrogen Council has quadrupled in size over the last eighteen months. Currently much of the hydrogen used in industry is derived from fossil fuels, but the World Hydrogen Council is envisaging a huge scaling up of hydrogen use at the same time as the switch to creating it all from renewable energy sources.

A year or two ago there was very little by way of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. It is now being deployed at a great rate. Locally Riversimple and McPhy have just brought the first hydrogen refuelling station to Abergavenny, which is exciting for me as our car sharing club will be using this facility by next spring.  Also this week ITM Power and Johnson Matthey have opened a public refuelling station in Swindon, ITM’s seventh such station in Britain. Air Liquide have just opened their tenth refuelling station in Germany. The big news however is from Nel ASA who have just opened a factory in Herning, Denmark, which will produce 300 hydrogen refuelling stations per year, initially I think mainly for deployment in Norway, Denmark, Germany and USA. They have been contracted to supply refuelling stations for the Nikola Motor Company, whose big hydrogen fuel cell trucks should be in production by 2021. South Korea expects to have a thousand hydrogen fuel cell buses on the road by 2022, with 310 refuelling stations. Norway plans to have a thousand hydrogen trucks in use by 2023. These are all encouragingly short timeframes.

Last week the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell train started operating in Germany. It was built by Alstom, who now plan to start production in UK. ABB and Ballard Power Systems are looking to a future where global shipping switches from diesel to hydrogen fuel cell technology. Bring it on. The planet is in need of a very rapid energy transition.

Hydrogen: Trucks

J.B.S. Haldane. In 1923 he predicted that hydrogen would be the fuel of the future.

J.B.S. Haldane. In 1923 he predicted that hydrogen would be the fuel of the future.

A Nikola hydrogen powered truck. By 2023 a number of companies, including Nikola, Toyota and Riversimple, expect to have fleets of hydrogen vehicles on the road.

A Nikola hydrogen powered truck. By 2023 a number of companies, including Nikola, Toyota and Riversimple, expect to have fleets of hydrogen vehicles on the road.

From the 19th Century onwards people have been predicting switching from coal to hydrogen as the energy to drive industry. As cheap oil and gas were developed the prospect of making hydrogen from renewable energy was put on the back burner. Enthusiasts talked of ‘the hydrogen economy’ and lots of interesting experimental projects were developed. Over the last century fossil fuel usage has skyrocketed, destabilizing the global climate and creating urban smog. Now the need to switch to a cleaner basis for the global economy is more urgent than ever. Using solar and wind power to split water via electrolysis into oxygen and hydrogen means that cheap surplus clean energy can be conveniently stored and used to generate electricity when required, to directly drive industry or, and perhaps most importantly, in our transport infrastructure.

There is much debate about whether battery electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel cell ones will predominate. Both will have a role to play. Both are essentially forms of electric propulsion. Battery electric vehicles are currently more widely deployed, but they have three major disadvantages. The batteries are heavy, slow to charge and have end of life recyclability issues.

On this blog I’ve written several times about prototype cars, trucks, trains and ships using hydrogen fuel cells. Some cities have deployed fleets of a few dozen hydrogen fuel cell buses, but nowhere has yet seen the large scale transition from diesel to hydrogen. That may be about to change, and the change may be very rapid, in the key long distance trucking sector.

A race to bring the first mass produced hydrogen fuel cell trucks onto the market is opening up, with Toyota and Nikola Motors competing for the key North American market. California alone is expecting a thousand hydrogen refuelling stations and a million hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to be on the road by 2030. Many of those refuelling stations will have onsite hydrogen production from local renewables. For example Toyota are partnering with Shell to build a biomass based hydrogen facility at the port of Long Beach in California.

Compressed and liquefied hydrogen will also be transported by pipelines and tankers from where electricity can most cheaply be generated to where energy is most in demand. This might include utilizing Iceland’s geothermal, Norway’s hydro or Moroccan solar to supply the major cities of Europe. Japan and South Korea are power hungry and energy resource poor places and could in theory be supplied from Australia with solar used to produce cheap hydrogen. Western Australia has just established a Renewable Hydrogen Council to research just such opportunities.

In 1923 Haldane predicted a hydrogen economy. By 2023 we might have made a good but rather belated start.

Hereford: Road Mania Continues


More bicycles than cars now enter Copenhagen each day

Hereford council seems to be in a frenzy of road building mania. As with previous such frenzied periods of infrastructure investment there is an over estimate of future demand. Canal mania resulted in canals for which there never was an economic case, railway mania produced railways which were not really needed. Hereford has now built the Rotherwas Relief Road and the Link road, and is planning a Southern Link Road and a Western By-pass. There are those who also want to see a Northern Link Road and an Eastern By-pass, so completing their desired Hereford Orbital Road. All of this road building seems based on some very out of date assumptions about the economic advantages of road building and the future growth of traffic.

The Commission on Travel Demand has shown that people in the UK are now driving 10% fewer miles than in 2002, and spending 22 hours less travelling each year than a decade ago. There has been a 20% reduction in commuter trips per week since the 1990’s. The fall has been most rapid amongst young men, with 18 to 30 year olds now driving only half the distance their parents did at their age. After decades of growth the demand for road space has now levelled off. It could fall rapidly over the coming decades, and there would be many benefits to society if it did. We could combat a diverse range of problems from obesity to climate change, social isolation to air quality and asthma, while building a stronger local economy.

Hereford should cancel all road building. It would have been better had we not built the Rotherwas Relief Road and the new Link road. Here are some suggestions.

Make all local public transport within the county free. This is a growing movement in cities globally. Estonia has now extended this to the whole country, having successfully trialled it in Tallinn. Gradually replace all the counties buses with hydrogen fuel cell or battery electric, and our local railway lines would be strong candidates also to switch from diesel to hydrogen.

Build many more walking and cycling routes into Hereford, including bike superhighways. Make bus routes into the city much more frequent and reliable. Gradually and systematically reduce all car parking spaces within the city. By doing all these three things simultaneously and consistently over the last 45 years Copenhagen has successfully achieved a modal shift from cars to cycling, walking and public transport. In a small city like Hereford we could create this modal shift very much more quickly.

Safe walking and cycling routes to all schools should be created, while banning or at least massively restricting all car use close to schools during the start and finish of the school day. Slower speed limits, which might be variable and digitally displayed, so that a 20mph limit might the norm for residential roads but lowered to say 5mph in the vicinity of schools during the times children are arriving and departing.

As more and more people work from home the regular daily commute is becoming less the norm. Shopping too is changing, as more people shop online. In our family we do all our shopping by foot, with a shopping trolley for heavy stuff. Many new housing developments around the world are now being built with no or minimal car parking spaces, and where a condition of residency is not to own a car. Many people now find that they only need to use a car occasionally, say once or twice per week, per month, or even per year. For such people owning a car is unnecessary and a burden: much better to join a car share club. In Hereford we have a successful community run car sharing club that is open to new members. If you live in Hereford do contact us for more information. By next spring we hope and expect to be the first community car share club in the world to be using a hydrogen fuel cell car, in our case the groundbreaking Riversimple Rasa.

Hereford is an ideal size for walking and cycling. If more people felt safe to travel in this way the problem of traffic congestion would rapidly diminish, without the expense and damage caused by road building.

Three inspirational events


Almere, pioneering community self building on land reclaimed from the sea.

Apologies, it’s now nearly a month since I last posted a blog. I usually try and write one every week or so. It’s been a busy month. One annoyance has been the General Data Protection Regulation regulations that I couldn’t fathom, which meant that I’ve cancelled the Mailchimp automated newsletter, and I’ll have to work out how to delete the sign-up form from this webpage! Sorry to those of you who enjoyed getting the blogs via the newsletter format.

Over the last week or so I’ve been to three events that each in their own way were inspiring and indicated positive trends. All could do with strong government support to really grow to their full potential.

The first event was the AGM of Ledbury Solar Coop. The coop is doing well and the directors are doing an outstanding job. This is one of the Sharenergy renewable energy coops of which I’m a member, and which I’ve frequently mentioned in previous blogs. To me they seemed to have massive potential to meet many social and environmental challenges. Unfortunately government support has been weak, confused and generally unhelpful, which has certainly slowed the spread of such coops.

The next event was Riversimple’s launch of the Rasa in Abergavenny. It is looking increasingly likely that our car club will be part of their trials for this hydrogen fuel cell car. The Riversimple car and our car club are things I’ve blogged about before. Together they indicate a way of moving beyond the era of individual ownership of wasteful and highly polluting petrol and diesel cars. We could free up a lot of urban space, cut traffic congestion and pollution by moving toward more flexible patterns of mobility.

The third event I’d like to flag up was the launch of Hereford Community Land Trust’s Building Momentum project. They had two outside speakers who I thought were excellent and showed how the UK’s housing crisis might best be addressed. Keith Cowling spoke about the achievements of Bristol Community Land Trust while Ted Stevens gave an inspiring talk setting UK community self build in context with the extraordinary projects being built in many other countries. (eg Berlin)

Together these three events show how energy, transport and housing outcomes could all be improved.


Costa Rica

Costa Rica is providing leadership in so many inspiring ways. Following a short civil war in 1948 it abolished its army and has for these last seventy years put the money saved into improving education, health and welfare systems. It now has longer life expectancy than USA. It is by far the most peaceful country in Central America and has very much lower crime levels than any of its neighbours. It has done much to protect and enhance its biodiversity. It has long been a beacon of good democratic government, and last month elected Carlos Alvarado as president.

The new president arrived at his inauguration ceremony in a hydrogen fuel cell bus, the first one in Central America. Costa Rica has for some years got about 99% of its electricity from renewables and has famously gone for 300 days without needing to burn any fossil fuels to generate electricity. It seeks to be a world leader by being the first country to fully decarbonise all its energy use. Transport is the big challenge. Carlos Alvarado has announced the incredibly ambitious goal of replacing all petrol and diesel use with battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars and buses by 2021. That would be a global first. It may not be fully achievable within these four years, but it is a goal worth pursuing. President Alvarado has described the full energy transition as a ’titanic and beautiful task’.

In order to make the transport sector fossil fuel free they will need to expand their renewable energy systems. So far most comes from hydro, with geothermal expanding quickly. Solar, wind and biomass are all still relatively underdeveloped. There is lots of scope for expansion. It will be very interesting to see what they can achieve in these next few years.

All the indexes and polls measuring happiness and wellbeing put Costa Rica up near the top, along with the five Nordic countries of Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. Low military spending, low levels of economic inequality, strong commitment to ecological sustainability and well functioning democracy seem to be unifying themes which help build a strong sense of social solidarity, wellbeing and happiness in all these countries: surely a recipe for others to follow?

Towards an Ecological Civilization


Can we make our cities, and World, less polluted and better to live in? This picture is of Paris, one of the places leading the way.

Humanity wants a better future. Increasingly we are united in our demands for a cleaner, less polluted environment, and we see this as a fundamental human right. We want to protect the oceans, the forests and the air we breathe from the multiple onslaughts of industrial civilization. Achieving a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable lifestyle for all humanity is a goal worth striving for.  Increasingly we have the technological tools to help us do this, and there is a global groundswell providing the pressure politicians need to enact positive change.

Slowly the United Nations is moving towards recognising the human right to a healthy environment. Over the last eight and a quarter years I’ve posted three hundred blogs highlighting some of the positive steps that are being taken on this path to a better future. My focus has been on the shift from a fossil fuel economy to one based on renewables. This change in energy use is one part of a bigger shift, what David Korten and Joanna Macy refer to as ‘The Great Turning’, from Imperial Civilization to Ecological Civilization.

In a great video Jeremy Leggett argues that the transition away from fossil fuels and to a 100% renewables based global economy is happening faster than most people understand. He identifies three meta-narratives in this process. First, the global groundswell of people, governments and increasingly also from corporations who see the need for change. Second, the falling costs and increasing efficiency of the renewable energy technologies, and thirdly, a whole set of problems within the old energy incumbency, from the ponzi like debt structure of the fracking industry to the inability of everything from coal and oil to nuclear to compete with renewables on either cost or environmental legislation. Together all these trends conspire towards an exponentially fast energy transition. We will see a lot of stranded assets.

There are many victories to celebrate. Over the last few years UK carbon emissions have fallen, so that in 2017 they dropped to levels last seen in 1890. This rapid improvement was mainly due to the decline in coal and rise of renewable sources of electricity.

As I’ve stressed in a number of recent blogs, the next big change needs to be in transport. At last many cities are starting to ban cars and make city centre areas radically more pedestrian focused. Cycle paths and public transport infrastructure are being improved. Several German cities are about to introduce free public transport in order to help get people to quit their car addiction. Many cities are banning the most polluting vehicles, and as I’ve shown in recent blogs very much cleaner alternatives are rapidly developing. Over the next decade I would predict air quality to improve and carbon emissions from transport to fall. Putin, Trump and few ghastly politicians will do all they can to stop this transition, but the overwhelming tide of global opinion combined with the pace of technological innovation is stacked against them.

Shipping beyond fossil fuels


Ampere, the Norwegian pioneering battery electric ferry.

Last week I looked at how transport systems might work in the post fossil fuel era. Hydrogen fuel cells and batteries are emerging as the main contenders in the race to store cheap, clean, surplus wind and solar energy and use it in various types of transport. The speed of change is likely to much faster than most people envisage. Reducing carbon emissions and cleaning up local air pollution have usually been portrayed as a cost, but if making these improvements proves cheaper than carrying on with old polluting technologies, then the pace of change may be very rapid. One extraordinary example of this is the ‘Ampere’.

The ‘Ampere’ is a ferry operating between Lavik and Oppendal across the Sognefjorden fiord in Norway. It is a battery electric vessel and came into service in 2015, and has now a couple of years of data which show that emissions are 95% down and operating costs are 80% cheaper than the previous diesel powered ferry. Due to these staggering environmental benefits and cost savings orders for similar ferries are flooding in. The busy ferry route between Helsingborg in Sweden and Helsingor in Denmark now has battery electric ferries, but the route is only four kilometres. The Dutch company Port-Liner are due to launch their innovative fully automated battery electric container barges this autumn, operating between Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. On the Pearl River in China a large new battery electric coal transport ship has come into operation with a 50 mile range. There is much scope to increase the use of battery electric ferries on short trips, but for large international ships crossing the major oceans something more than just batteries will probably be needed. This might include onboard solar panels and use of the wind via sails, kites or aerofoils. All these are being trialed.

As ships currently use heavy, very dirty, forms of diesel they emit huge quantities of a whole range of pollutants. Switching to radically cleaner forms of energy makes sense first in urban contexts, such as in port, along rivers and canals and on short ferry crossings, up to and including say ferries linking England and France. We have the technology to do this now, and it makes perfect sense both environmentally and economically. Long distance global shipping will also make the transition to cleaner fuels, but it’ll take a little longer, as the technical challenges are more complex, but certainly not impossible.

Transport beyond fossil fuels

Coradia iLint

The Coradia iLint made by Alstom, a hydrogen fuel cell regional train

Many countries are now setting themselves the goal of moving from petrol and diesel powered transportation systems to very much cleaner technologies. The UK, like many countries has set itself the goal of banning sales of new fossil fuelled vehicles by 2040. Norway plans to do so by 2025. Many people still don’t seem to realize that we already have most of the technologies we’ll need to run a modern global economy purely on renewable forms of energy. Renewably generated electricity, supplied via the grid, via batteries or via hydrogen fuel cells will be the basis of most methods of transport.

For over a hundred years trains and trams have used electricity via either overhead cables or live rails. There is a strong case to keep electrifying railway lines. An emerging alternative, particularly suitable for quiet rural railway lines, where the high cost of electrification might not be justified, are hydrogen fuel cell trains. Alstom is already marketing the Coradia iLint, and Siemens are now partnering with Ballard to make something similar. There are lots of advantages to getting people and freight off the roads and on to rails. Steel wheels on steel rails generate much less friction than rubber tyres on tarmac, meaning greater energy efficiency and less pollution. The longer thinner shape of trains means less air resistance, again aiding efficiency.

We will of course still need buses, trucks and cars. There are many possible fuel options. Oslo has a fleet of 135 buses powered on biomethane made from food waste and sewage. I’ve blogged about methanol fuel cells, and a whole range of innovative and experimental ships, planes, and solar panel clad roads and cars, which are all promising but not yet in common usage. Battery electric vehicles are getting massive media coverage due to Elon Musk and Tesla, and are beginning to sell in large numbers. Last year in Norway over half of all new cars sold were either battery electric or petrol/electric hybrids, but sadly in most other countries the proportion is very much smaller. In terms of volume of sales, China is a long way ahead of any other market for battery electric or hybrid cars and buses.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the other main technology to be moving from the experimental stage to the mass production stage. (earlier blogs from me in 2015 and 2017) The Scottish government has recently helped Aberdeen double its fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses from ten to twenty. Cologne in Germany has just ordered thirty, and dozens of cities are ordering a few. Ballard, the Canadian hydrogen fuel cell specialist has now teamed up with some Chinese companies to build a fleet of 500 hydrogen fuel cell light trucks and the refuelling infrastructure to support their roll out in Shanghai. Meanwhile the Nikola company has secured 8,000 pre-orders for its huge hydrogen fuel cell trucks, and will start production next year in Arizona. At the other end of the spectrum is Riversimple, who are due to build their first twenty tiny hydrogen fuel cell cars later this year, and which our local car club may be in a position to trial. Exciting times!

The days of petrol and diesel are numbered. It is too early to say which technology will dominate in the post fossil fuel economy. Both hydrogen and batteries are in essence ways of storing surplus wind and solar electricity and it is this aspect of how best to store energy cheaply and at vast scale which may be the main determinate of which fuel is used where. There will undoubtedly be a role for many technologies in various settings. I’ll explore more on this next week.