To learn more about the organisation, the role the Advanced Propulsion Centre will play in supporting the growing hydrogen sector, and the challenges associated with the evolving industry, H2 View spoke with Ian Constance, CEO of the Advanced Propulsion Centre.

 H2 View (H2V): What are some of the main barriers currently restricting the UK’s fuel cell sector and how could this be overcome?

Ian Constance (IC): We’ve already unlocked one of the challenges with the publication of our fuel cell value chain maps. These technologies are often shrouded in intellectual property, but in mapping out the value chain our intention was to enable industry to see where the opportunities are and how they could grow, diversify and collaborate.

What transpired from that work was a realisation that the UK could hold a strong position in the biggest parts of the value chain. There are massive opportunities here that play to UK strengths in the chemical processing, pioneering electrolysis and energy technology and markets.

For the hydrogen technology market to thrive, for investors to put the big money in and for operators to really start to get comfortable, we will have to address the supply and distribution infrastructure. If we look what’s happened with batteries, legislation has really helped accelerate EV take up – but the charging infrastructure is still catching up. Range anxiety has been replaced with charge anxiety.

Like batteries, ensuring infrastructure is moving at the same pace as on-vehicle technology is a challenge that needs to be addressed. We have far too few hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK currently and this affects the chicken and egg adoption of FCEVs.

There’s also a big mindset shift. It isn’t a case of battery electric vehicles vs hydrogen-fuelled vehicles – to truly decarbonise transport we’ll need both. Most cars and vans and some trucks will be able to go battery electric, depending on the work they are doing, but a few light duty cars and vans may find that batteries do not work. Much of the large machinery – for agriculture, construction and mining will be in a similar predicament. Move into other modes of transport such as marine, rail, air and the use case for hydrogen becomes even stronger.

Then there’s generation. This is another area where academics often disagree. It is absolutely more efficient to use green energy to recharge a battery – this model produces fewer losses and it will be how the majority of vehicles we drive will be powered. But Green hydrogen can be created in the UK at times when wind generation is high but electricity demand is low, and then stored. Maximising the use of ‘unneeded’ wind energy somewhat cancels out the inefficiency argument.

H2V: How is the Advanced Propulsion Centre supporting the UK’s hydrogen fuel cell industry and what are its targets for the future?

IC: APC’s support for the development of hydrogen technology comes in a number of ways. Our role is to accelerate the progress of the UK automotive sector’s transition to net zero, we’re technology agnostic, getting to net-zero emissions and safeguarding or creating jobs in the UK auto sector is our key focus, but it’s clear hydrogen has a role in this.

Firstly, as a bridge between industry, government and academia, we have access to unique insight which enables us to produce forecasts to support key strategic decisions. Our fuel cell value chain maps are an example of this as are our roadmaps. We will continue to share this data to support UK growth.

Secondly, our funding competitions to support late-stage research and development of on-board vehicle technology. We will not move the dial on decarbonisation until these technologies are on the road, taking the place of more polluting cars and vans. We have a number of fuel cell and hydrogen combustion projects developing everything from range extenders and hydrogen engines to the development of complete demonstrator vehicles such as SUVs and buses.

And thirdly, the rapid scale up of the supply chain through the Automotive Transformation Fund – either through funding feasibility studies to assess the commercial viability of projects through to capital support for large industrialisation projects. We already have two battery gigafactories through Britishvolt and AESC Envision in the north east and an e-drive plant with Ford in Merseyside. I doubt it will be long before we see an application for hydrogen supply chain scale up.

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