Hydrogen cars explained: the technology targeting a fuel-cell future

The oil-and-gas industry’s UK continental shelf report, also released in July, estimates 30% of the natural gas supply will be converted to hydrogen (with CO2 being captured) and there will be a massive escalation in renewable energy from offshore wind farms from 2030 to produce green hydrogen (no CO2 involved).

Green hydrogen is produced from electricity by the electrolysis of water. Once energy has been converted to hydrogen, it can be stored indefinitely, making use of depleted oil fields and salt caverns, which Hunt says the UK has “excellent geology for”. Thirty salt caverns in the UK are already used for storing natural gas and oil. Pipelines once used for carrying natural gas can be used for hydrogen instead and perform a dual role of storing energy.

The current pipeline network in the European Union not only transports gas but in doing so also stores 1500TWh of energy in gas form. And unlike electricity, the energy carried in hydrogen doesn’t diminish as it’s moved. A consortium of European gas suppliers plans to build another 14,000 miles of pipe to form a hydrogen distribution backbone right across Europe.

Building hydrogen filling stations without many vehicles to make them financially viable has been a sticking point, but regional commercial fleets of trucks, taxis and buses offer a solution. “The original thinking was to build a lot of filling stations and have cars travelling between them,” explains Hart. “Now the thinking is to establish fleets in specific areas to create nodes. Once there are enough areas, they can be joined up.”

Hart labels the EU targets for 2050 “very aggressive” and says a concerted effort will be needed to grow production of the electrolysers needed for making green hydrogen.

British firm ITM Power is ahead of the game on that score. “We have been producing electrolysers for two full decades now and at the end of this year will create a gigafactory for electrolysers,” explains ITM Motive managing director Duncan Yellen.

ITM Motive is a new offshoot of ITM Power set up to focus expressly on the development of hydrogen filling stations. It has seven already, mainly around London, and another six under development – two in the London area and four further north. “We need about 100 to have a sensible geographical coverage,” says Yellen. “My ambition is to achieve the magic 100 stations within the next five years. Because of the excellent range of fuel cell vehicles, that will give us a nationwide coverage.”

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