Is hydrogen THE viable long-term fuel solution?

Is hydrogen THE viable long-term fuel solution?

I’ve had a truly fascinating few weeks of future-gazing and thought provoking industry conferences and forums. More to come before Christmas but I have to share!

It’s acutely clear to me that true insight, facts and objectivity are key in this time of rapid industry disruption and social media soapboxing and fake news; whether that be in family, employment, political, economic or scientific spheres.

James Davis blog

Despite all the social media sound bytes and subjective opinion, I’m convinced from recent weeks that Hydrogen is THE viable long term solution beyond battery electric.

Let’s replay some subjective/fake news comments I have heard recently: “Hydrogen isn’t safe, look at the Hindenburg”

Fact: Hydrogen is the smallest molecule in the universe. Being lighter than air, it escapes immediately upon exposure to atmosphere. The fire in the airship was a combination of timber, frame covering material and highly flammable paint.

That’s why there are an ever increasing number of OEMs investing in Hydrogen fuel cell development - in the passenger car, heavy commercial and bus sectors. The first UK hydrogen train is in test.

As with battery electric take-up and infrastructure roll out, the UK is increasingly lagging behind its European counterparts.

Some months ago I suggested the potential repurposing of the now disposed National Grid gas distribution network; accepting it would need significant modification to accommodate Hydrogen gas and associated loss.

As with electricity, there are different degrees of clean Hydrogen production; the greenest being electrolysis neighbouring a fuelling station, on site, by renewable energy.

The major oil companies are already bought in; many are spreading bets with EV charging networks too. However these companies own land. They are offering their existing fuel station footprint to be repurposed over time and, in the interim, they have plenty of experience distributing fuel from refineries, albeit less green.

Looking to Europe, there is a significant hydrogen refuelling rollout plan scheduled (or in play) country by country. Germany is opening a new hydrogen filling station every 2 weeks.

This refuelling infrastructure is crucial, along with OEM model ranges, availability and price parity with BEV in terms of cost new. Currently a government department provide a £25k hydrogen registration grant! You try and order one. And if you don’t live or travel around the outskirts of London the chance of refuelling is challenging.

This government hydrogen subsidy can’t be maintained as registrations inevitably rise - taking the current plug in grant as a live example. Government don’t want to pay these grants. But someone has to pay for this paradigm shift.

Interestingly, the current UK cost of Hydrogen refuelling per tank for cars is equivalent to the cost of petrol - but gives a diesel range. Hydrogen will never be about low cost running; it’s about zero tail pipe emissions. And 4-5 minutes to fill.

Considering the urgent global need to move to carbon zero (as opposed to carbon neutral/offset in the interim) this is the biggest crystal ball crossroads for OEM’s, funders of new vehicles and fuelling networks alike.

It’s as revolutionary as moving from the horse to horsepower. Hay to Octane. Manure to micro particulates.

Whilst the UK is a number of years away from a nationwide hydrogen refuelling network (let alone a suitable EV recharging network), the significant reduction in battery mass required in a Hydrogen fuel cell vs a BEV will release valuable payload for commercial vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions #coxautomotive #hydrogen #insight

For those that ask, this considered reflection is a large element of my job; providing insight into the OEM, Funder and owner/operator sectors. That’s when I realise how a career has not only added value to clients but actually has the potential to make a real difference to our evolution.

Latest from Cox Automotive

17th September, 2020

Fuel/talk episode 3: Liam Quegan talks wholesale funding

James Davis chats with Liam Quegan, MD of Manheim Auction Services and NextGear Capital about his observations of the market since reopening and his advice for dealers for the rest of 2020.

Read more
15th September, 2020

How independent dealers have overcome the roller coaster return

Dan Boakes, Head of Buyer Experience at Cox Automotive UK, considers how independent dealers have adapted to the changed wholesale marketplace.

Read more
14th September, 2020

Introducing Fuel/talk

Fuel/talk is our new bi-weekly ‘chat show’ hosted by James Davis that aims to share valuable context for automotive professionals on the market, our products, news and stories, and areas of expertise.

Read more
11th September, 2020

Records continue tumbling at Manheim CV

Manheim, the UK’s number one CV auction company, has delivered another record-breaking LCV sales performance in August, bucking the traditional seasonal slowdown.

Read more
More articles