Is hydrogen really the fuel of the future?
Will our service stations offer ‘hydrogen pumps’ alongside petrol and diesel in the near future?
Can hydrogen bridge the gap and catch up with the EV charging network?
As we look for ways of reducing carbon emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels, Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are starting to appear on the world’s roads – joining electric vehicles in a race to find an effective future solution to decarbonised road transport.
In this third article in our hydrogen fuel series (check out part one on the pros and cons of hydrogen, and part two on how hydrogen cars work), AMS Composite Cylinders Director, Steve Langron, looks at hydrogen refuelling.
After exploring the current environment, and the challenges associated with scaling, Steve looks at the near future solutions, and the significant investment that’s happening right now in the development of a worldwide hydrogen refuelling network.
Refuelling Hydrogen Vehicles – How it works
The overwhelming majority of today’s hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (HFCEV) store hydrogen as a compressed gas, in lightweight, carbon composite cylinders.
Refuelling these vehicles is essentially the same process as refilling any gas cylinder, and in practice it’s very similar to refuelling a traditional petrol or diesel vehicle. Most hydrogen vehicles feature a fuel cap and refuelling receptacle.
They pull up at the filling station, open the cap, and fit the hydrogen dispenser (which looks very similar to a traditional fuelling nozzle) to the receptacle. The process takes a little longer (5 minutes or so) than filling up a petrol tank. This ease of fuelling is one of the biggest advantages of hydrogen vehicles over electric – where charging the battery to full can take several hours.
The fledgling network – electric charging vs hydrogen
So far, electric vehicles have a big head-start on hydrogen when it comes to the refuelling network.
At the end of May 2018, there were more than 16,000 Electric Vehicle (EV) charging points in the UK – there’s a truly nationwide network. If you own an electric car, it’s possible to travel all around the UK and across mainland Europe, without having to worry too much about running out of fuel; although you may need some lengthy coffee breaks while the car is re-charged.
Currently, the hydrogen network in the UK is extremely sparse. There are a handful (around 20 or so) of operational filling stations, with the vast majority located in and around London. Those outside the capital tend to be linked to motor development centres, such as the ITM Power station at the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham. For those outside London, it’s a big barrier to adoption.
Which comes first, the hydrogen cars, or the refuelling network?
It’s a chicken and egg situation – people will be unwilling to purchase hydrogen cars without a refuelling network in place, but who is going to fund an expensive network of filling stations without cars on the road?
Domestic investment and expansion
The positive news is that we’re now seeing real investment in hydrogen refuelling in an effort to boost uptake. In March 2017, the government announced a new £23 million fund to roll out infrastructure. The fund enables hydrogen fuel providers to bid for funding in partnership with hydrogen car manufacturers, to build high tech fuel stations.
In March 2018, an £8.8 million government funded project from Element Energy, ITM Power, Shell, Toyota was announced – including the launch of 200 new hydrogen powered police cars and taxis in Summer 2018. The £8.8 million grant was matched by £13.1 million investment from the companies involved and other sources.
As part of this plan, the hydrogen fuelling network is to expand significantly, with new refuelling stations planned for Southwark, Isleworth, Birmingham and Derby. In addition to the 4 new stations, 5 existing fuel stations will be upgraded.
Swindon, the self-proclaimed Hydrogen capital of the UK, looks set to be home to more than 170 hydrogen cars and 2 refuelling stations by 2020, driven primarily by investment from car hire company Arval.
These small steps are significant, enabling those with hydrogen vehicles to travel further around the country than ever before.
Beyond our borders – Global Investment in Hydrogen Refuelling
Outside of the UK, the world is starting to embrace hydrogen, and we’re seeing a huge amount of investment in expanding the global fuelling network from governments, hydrogen industry leaders, automotive manufacturers and businesses
A quick search of the news from May and early June 2018 found:
- France announces €100m in “Plan Hydrogène” – an investment in the French economy with a target, amongst others, to increase hydrogen filling stations from 20 to 100
- Nel ASA has received a €2m order to build their first Asian filling station
- Queensland earmarks AUS$750,000 for Hydrogen investment
- British Columbia announces the first Hydrogen filling stations will be in place this year
- 7 Swiss companies have formed an alliance to develop a Swiss Hydrogen network by 2023 to fuel their lorry fleets
- California opens its 35th Hydrogen refuelling station
- Bulgaria commits to 10 refuelling stations by 2025
- Nuremberg announce 5 more filling stations
Going forward, we’re seeing a huge amount of wider investment in this space. Major manufacturers including Toyota, Daimler and BMW have promised $10 billion investment in the space over the next decade.
Lightweight Carbon Composite Gas Cylinders from AMS
All the HFCEV on the world’s roads need a safe, robust and lightweight method of storing the hydrogen they use. AMS Composite Cylinders supplies a full range of advanced, lightweight gas cylinders to customers across the UK and Europe.
Products include carbon composite and aluminium cylinders for a wide variety of applications, including healthcare, respiratory, SCBA, laboratory, emergency, aerospace, hydrogen fuel cell and environmental uses.
Carbon composite cylinders offer high pressure (300 Bar), low weight, and NLL (Non-Limited Life) performance, and are accredited for use worldwide, in line with ISO 11119-2, UN-TPED Pi, DOT (USA), TC (Canada).
This blog was written by Dr Steve Langron, Director of AMS Composite Cylinders Ltd.
Additional information about AMS Composite Cylinders Ltd can be found at www.ams-composites.com.