A truly sustainable transport sector must incorporate fuel cells

June 30, 2021

Despite rapidly approaching Net Zero goals and bans on the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles, it is hard to see currently, how the transport industry will become completely green and sustainable.  At the end of 2018, the ONS reported that only 0.5% of all vehicles licensed in the UK were ultra-low emission vehicles and transport remained the largest emitting sector of domestic greenhouse gases.

The right car for the right journey

Electrification and pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have attracted considerable attention. These charge up using mains electricity, have zero tailpipe emissions, and have provided a bandage to transportation emissions problems, but the issue runs deeper than this. If you live in a city, do short trips, and have access to a charging point, then yes, a pure BEV is the vehicle for you. Even if you need to do the infrequent long journey, you can make it work with forward planning; few will mind stopping for a coffee and a charge-up on route to a destination, a time for you and the car to re-energise. However, there are several areas such as the larger transportation applications and haulage of goods as well as people, where electrification just won’t cut it for a number of reasons. This is where we arrive at a hybrid solution—fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

There are already a number of successful deployments of large-scale hydrogen fuel cell vehicle fleets. For example, Green Tomato Cars operate a 27-unit fleet of Toyota Mirais in London that surpassed 1 million miles in 2019 and each of these cars has saved the equivalent of 7.6 tonnes of CO2 over this distance and emitted zero NOx emissions.

Meanwhile, Aberdeen launched a fleet of 15 hydrogen double decker buses at the beginning of the year which have already covered 100,000 miles and plans are in motion for the city to produce its own hydrogen. That means all their buses will be locally powered, moving a city that has long been associated with the oil industry to a cleaner future.

What can hydrogen fuel cells do for transportation

To break it down, hydrogen fuel cells can replace or complement (range extender) an existing battery drivetrain. This means that it can provide fast refuel, zero emission power as well as being completely silent, with operating costs for passenger vehicles similar to that of a Prius. While this all sounds reasonable, there is one main sticking point when it comes to why we aren’t seeing more of these vehicles on our roads: charging and refuelling infrastructure.

Today in the UK (a relatively small and easily commutable place) there are just shy of 40,000 commercial charging points in around 14,000 locations (this does not include private charging points in homes or businesses) to service a UK fleet of 500,000 BEVs and plug in hybrid electric vehicles. Compare this to the 8,000 traditional gasoline and diesel refuelling stations servicing 40 million traditionally fuelled cars, 3.3 million vans and 500,000 lorries.

A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (car, truck, bus etc.) refuels in the typical time frame as its diesel counterpart. This means that the UK can service domestic demand using the current number of refuelling stations. Moreover, the deployment of 8,000 hydrogen refuellers can be made in a timelier manner and is self-contained.

Read more here.

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