By the end of this year, a statewide network of hydrogen refuelling stations will be operating throughout the UK thanks to plans by the British startup Element 2, as reported by Autocar.
The Skipton-based business has been developing its business plan since 2019, and in a few months, it will transition to the operational phase with five sites open, followed by 30 additional locations that will be “operational or under construction” by the end of the year.
If a vehicle has a range of between 300 and 400 miles, there shouldn’t be a logistical issue, according to Brendan Bilton, chief technology officer of Element 2. “Then we should be able to announce to fleet operators that we have a nationwide network with roughly 100 miles between stops,” he added.
However, private automobiles like the Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Nexo, and the upcoming BMW iX5 Hydrogen will be able to use Element 2’s pumping system. The first focus is to service large trucks and light commercial vehicles.
“We will be prepared when fuel-cell cars hit the market since our refuelling equipment is compatible with automotive fuel cells, which is a crucial aspect. But recently, we changed our projections and moved light commercial demand ahead of demand from private vehicles,” said Bilton.
Prioritising buses and trucks
Hydrogen from Element 2 is prioritised for use in buses and trucks because the UK’s 600,000 daily truck operations account for 18% of all road transport emissions.
Also, since a truck normally consumes 50 kilogrammes of hydrogen per day, a bus consumes 20 kg, and a vehicle only consumes 1 kg, refuelling stations targeted at trucks and buses make more sense economically.
Assuming that 1 kilogramme of hydrogen now costs £15 including 20% VAT (but no fuel charge), switching to hydrogen for just 1000 vehicles would result in a daily revenue of £750,000.
As long as you have enough hydrogen flowing through your pumps, you can profit from this, as we discovered early on, adds Bilton.
£1 billion investment
So far, Element 2 has made rapid progress with a relatively modest £6.5 million investment, but two further funding rounds totalling £100m will be launched this year and ultimately investment is likely to hit £1 billion by 2027.
Battery-electric technology will provide many solutions – Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant is pivoting solely to electric van production, for example – but the range and speed of refuelling of fuel cells is attractive to some.
“For other operations, it’s the fuel cell that can replace the internal combustion engine,” said Bilton.
American firm Nikola is planning to launch in Europe in 2024, while established truck makers like Iveco, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Volvo are also working on hydrogen technology.
To fulfil this emerging demand, Element 2 is concentrating its network on the UK’s 147 truck stops.
Last July, it announced its first two sites with planning permission approved, one at Coneygarth on the A1 near Northallerton, and a second on the M6 near Carlisle.
Safety follows ADR dangerous goods transport regulations, in use internationally in industry, which commonly uses compressed hydrogen stored in tanker trailers.
They could operate at 700bar, but the higher pressure causes heating of the gas during filling, which has to be offset by complex cooling systems that also incorporate periods of dwell, when pumping has to be stopped for 30 minutes or so.
“Some people in the hydrogen debate are solely focused on a single issue: efficiency.
But the bigger picture is more important: replacing diesel trucks with a cleaner, practical alternative.”
Where does the Hydrogen come from?
As the procedure doesn’t employ hydrocarbons, it creates 99.97% pure hydrogen, which is necessary to prevent harming the fuel cell’s catalyst.
Chlor-alkyl producers in Europe produce 270,000 tonnes of chlor-alkyl annually, which is similar to the output of a 2GW water electrolyser and accounts for around 35% of the continent’s overall hydrogen output, according to the trade association Eurochlor, which represents the industry. 10% is wasted, while the remaining 45% and 45% are used for garbage and chemical processing, respectively.
According to Eurochlor, this hydrogen has a “minimal carbon footprint,” with 0.2-0.55kg CO2 equivalent per kilogramme, or 90% less than hydrogen produced using fossil fuels.
More importantly, the development of a market for hydrogen as an “energy vector” will allow for the commercial utilisation of the 10-15% of output that is currently lost due to a lack of market demand.
Did you subscribe to our newsletter?
It’s free! Click here to subscribe!