But where will the hydrogen come from? As the report says: ‘Questions remain over how to supply hydrogen in a low-carbon cost-effective manner’. The trouble is these questions have been around for ever and show no sign of going away. Producing electricity, converting it into hydrogen then back to electricity seems unlikely ever to be a cheap process.
The UK government has revealed plans to pump £23 million into “cutting edge” infrastructure to accelerate the uptake of hydrogen powered vehicles, reports Utility Week.
The Department for Transport has invited hydrogen fuel providers to bid for match funding from the government for high-tech infrastructure projects, including fuelling stations, in a competition launching over the summer.
Transport minister John Hayes said: “We know availability of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure can be a potential obstacle to the take up of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. That’s why we’re providing support to give interested parties the confidence to continue to invest in this new emerging technology to help us achieve our ambition for almost all new cars and vans to be zero emission by 2040.”
Hydrogen vehicles, such as the Mirai designed by Toyota, use fuel cells to turn hydrogen into electricity which is then used to power electric motors. Like petrol and diesel powered cars they can be refuelled at pumping stations in a matter of minutes but unlike their conventional counterparts only emit water.
“Toyota believes hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles can play an important role in the transition to a low carbon, low emissions society,” said Toyota GB president and managing director Paul Van der Burgh. “We chose the UK as one of the first international markets for our Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car and are pleased that the government is investing in this programme to encourage the further development of refuelling infrastructure and the wider uptake of fuel cell vehicles.”
Questions remain over how to supply hydrogen in a low-carbon cost-effective manner. The fuel can be produced by passing electricity through water – a process known as electrolysis. This allows excess generation from renewables to be stored until it is needed, assisting with their integration into the energy system. However, the process is inefficient – giving back much less power than is put in – and is therefore also expensive.
One alternative would be to produce hydrogen from a fossil fuel feedstock, using carbon capture and storage (CCS) to get rid of the emissions, although there are similarly concerns over the cost of CCS.
Hydrogen is being examined as a possible solution to the decarbonisation of heat as well as a transport and power. Northern Gas Networks worked with Leeds City Council on the H21 project, which explored the possibility of converting the city’s gas grid to run on hydrogen. The study, which was published in July, concluded that a complete conversion would be both feasible and desirable.