By doubling its target low-carbon hydrogen capacity from 5GW to 10GW by 2030, it is clear that the UK’s Government is backing the clean energy carrier and its role in decarbonising the economy.
At the forefront of the UK’s hydrogen revolution is the Advanced Propulsion Centre, an organisation facilitating funding to UK-based research and development projects. This could be a crucial vector for supporting the growing hydrogen community.
To learn more about the organisation and the role the Advanced Propulsion Centre will play in supporting the growing sector, H2 View spoke with Ian Constance, CEO of the Advanced Propulsion Centre.
H2 View (H2V): How could the UK become a leading region in the development of hydrogen fuel cells and support innovation in this space?
Ian Constance (IC): Well, the good news is, we’re not doing this from a standing start – the UK already has world-leading strengths in the upstream stages of fuel cell system manufacturing – the electrochemical and material processing. In fact, we are already realising 15% of the value add on a fuel cell system.
However, our analysis shows that could be as much as 65% and this is the opportunity we have highlighted to industry and government in our latest publication.
It’s very clear that we are on track for large scale roll out of battery electric cars and vans – the UK’s leadership in this regard with early legislation has been a game changer in helping focus the car buying consumers and the car making companies on the journey that we are on. However, we cannot do it all with batteries – it’s going to be ‘horses for courses’.
Batteries will work for the vast majority of car and vans, but where applications need long range and high energy, batteries have their limitations. Perhaps most significantly, in commercial applications where payload distance and uptime are critical factors, hydrogen will have a role. We’re seeing a lot more hydrogen technology innovation in the projects we support, some really interesting developments in on-board zero carbon vehicle technology.
We forecast rapid growth in fuel cell platforms for on and off road vehicles from 2030 as hydrogen refuelling networks expand, with the aim for price at the pump to drop to $4–5/kg. We expect that 14GW of on-board fuel stack power and 400,000 hydrogen carbon fibre tanks will be required to meet the demands of FCEV production in the UK alone by 2035. That’s the equivalent of 140,000 vehicles.
There’s also a clear role emerging for hydrogen combustion, particularly in the heavy-duty sectors. APC insight suggests that by 2040 across Europe, 40% of new HGVs sold will be battery electric, 30% fuel cell and 15% hydrogen combustion. The UK produced 1.3 million vehicles in the UK during 2019 (pre-pandemic), but manufactured 2.5 million light duty engines, with an estimated total value of £8bn ($10bn).
80% of these were exported to Europe. We already support projects for hydrogen combustion engines with Cummins and Dolphin N2 who hope to continue UK production of near zero-tailpipe emissions engines.
So, we have emerging demand, capability and the opportunity to build out from this to realise more of the value in the UK. For example, fuel cell stack and system assembly, and manufacturing the high-pressure carbon fibre cylinder tanks essential to the on-board storage and transportation of hydrogen in both fuel cell and hydrogen combustion engines. Or using existing, automotive capability to volume manufacture components like bipolar plates and stack assemblies.
It will take investment to retain this leading position, but we’re already seeing this happening. Johnson Matthey recently pledged £1bn ($1.3bn) investment in clean hydrogen technologies by 2030, which signals confidence in UK growth and Ballard Power’s acquisition of UK company Arcola Energy in the last quarter of 2021, a $40 million inward investment in UK manufacturing.
I must stress we are not saying it’s fuel cells instead of batteries, in the short term, batteries will still dominate but there is an important role for hydrogen. What we hope, in sharing our value chain maps insight is that it helps industry and government make long-term strategic decisions for this technology area that benefits UK growth.
H2V: What political frameworks or organisations are being introduced to ensure that the UK leads in fuel cell innovation?
IC: APCs focus is entirely on the on-board vehicle technology and the transition of the UK automotive industry to zero carbon technology. The Automotive Transformation Fund which we deliver with the UK government, has already made real progress accelerating the pace of BEV supply chain industrialisation – with two gigafactories and an electric drive assembly plant already in motion.
I doubt it will be long before we see hydrogen-technology scale up as globally many OEMs have announced in the past year that they are exploring hydrogen or fuel cell models – including a few like JLR’s Zeus a demonstrator which has APC funding support.
However, as with battery EVs, energy generation and infrastructure are intrinsically linked to consumer confidence and uptake. The UK government hydrogen strategy released in August 2021, provides a clear pathway for blue and green hydrogen production but it needs investment from industry to make it happen.
In terms of refuelling, we see a different model for hydrogen vehicles initially, compared to petrol or diesel, where their use case suggests a model of strategically placed refuelling stations near logistics or industrial centres. This will then grow with consumer demand.
You can find out more about the Advanced Propulsion Centre and its role in the UK’s hydrogen community in part 2.
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