Category Archives: Transport

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.