UK H2Mobility

The following frequently asked questions have been produced following the phase one report findings.

What are the aims of UK H2Mobility?

The aims of the UK H2Mobility project are to:

  1. Evaluate the potential for hydrogen as a low-carbon fuel in the UK
  2. Review the investments needed to introduce hydrogen for transport use on a mass-market basis, including refuelling infrastructure, as well as the potential carbon emission reduction benefits
  3. Produce up-to-date and UK-specific information on the potential for hydrogen, outlining how it may fit alongside pure battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in a portfolio of solutions to decarbonise transport
  4. Identify what is required to make the UK a serious global player in hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle manufacturing and use, delivering economic and carbon reduction benefits for the UK
  5. Create employment and boost local economies

In its first phase of work, UK H2Mobility has developed a roadmap for the introduction of vehicles and hydrogen refuelling stations from 2015. The consortium is now developing a coordinated business plan in the second phase of the project.

Who is part of UK H2Mobility?

The participants include international companies from all stages of the transport hydrogen supply chain, representing gas producers, hydrogen infrastructure providers, fuel retailers, fuel cell manufacturers, an energy utility and vehicle manufacturers.

There are currently 12 industry parties together with the European Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking and three UK Government Departments – the Department for Business for Innovation and Skills, the Department for Transport and the Department for Energy and Climate Change as well as Transport for Scotland, Greater London Authority, and the Welsh Government.

Read more about the participants of the UK H2Mobility project.

Can new parties join UK H2Mobility?

UK H2Mobility is not a closed group. Anyone can join UK H2Mobility if they can demonstrate an ability to play a significant role in contributing to the co-ordinated roll-out of hydrogen-fuelled vehicles and refuelling infrastructure in the UK.

How is UK H2Mobility funded?

The UK H2Mobility project is a private-public partnership, with the majority of the money coming from the private sector investment. The project is primarily funded by its industry participants, with the UK Government also contributing a set amount towards the total cost of phase one to ensure the output met the original objectives.

The UK is committed to a low-carbon future and projects like UK H2Mobility are essential to ensure that such a future is achievable. We will all benefit from vehicles and technologies that create less pollution.

How does a fuel cell work?

An FCEV uses hydrogen gas as a fuel, stored in a compact, strong but lightweight high pressure tank. At the heart of an FCEV is a fuel cell system which includes the fuel cell stack. The fuel cell stack is a layered arrangement of many individual fuel cells. The hydrogen and ambient air (containing oxygen) are fed respectively into the anode (negative) and cathode (positive). The hydrogen molecules are activated by the anode and release electrons, which travel to the cathode, creating an electrical current. The hydrogen ions created when the electrons are released travel by a different route to the cathode, where they combine with oxygen and released electrons to form water.

In an FCEV, the power generated by the fuel cell stack is used to drive the FCEV’s electric motor, with additional power supplied when needed from a secondary battery. This battery is also used to store additional short-term energy generated in FCEVs equipped with regenerative braking.

How expensive are fuel cell cars?

As with any new technology, the first FCEVs on the market are likely to cost more than established technology. Nevertheless, the UK H2Mobility results show that some consumers will be willing to pay this early premium for the advantages offered by FCEVs. The cost of FCEVs is expected to reduce over time and as the market develops.

Many of the world’s major car manufacturers have publicly declared plans to produce and sell fuel cell vehicles by 2020.

How ‘green’ is hydrogen as a fuel?

Hydrogen can be produced from any form of primary energy, renewable or conventional. As a fuel it is widely available, efficient, renewable and non-polluting. The majority today is produced from steam reforming. However, an increasing number of plants are using renewable technologies. To eliminate further environmental costs from transportation, hydrogen can also be produced on-site – at point of use – using water electrolysis.

Even when produced from fossil fuels, hydrogen can significantly reduce the overall amount of greenhouse gases and pollutants produced in power generation plants.

Does it take more energy to generate hydrogen than it produces as a fuel?

Yes. This is a consequence of the laws of thermodynamics. Hydrogen should be regarded as an energy carrier, similar to electricity. Both require more energy in their production than is subsequently available for an end-use application. However, both hydrogen and electricity have additional utility which justify the energy expenditure involved. For electricity, the additional utility is too obvious to require stating. For hydrogen, the additional utility includes the ability to store and distribute the fuel and the speed of refuelling compared with battery recharging.

It takes energy to produce any fuel. It takes about 15-20% of the energy in the crude oil to produce gasoline. For electric vehicles, about 50% of the energy in coal or natural gas results in electricity used to charge vehicles from a domestic mains socket. The remainder is lost in the power station as heat and in transmission and distribution losses. It takes about 30% of the energy in natural gas to produce hydrogen.

What is really critical is the overall efficiency of the whole cycle, since this is related to ‘well-to-wheel’ emissions. This is particularly important given the impact of carbon emissions on climate change. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are overall more efficient than vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine, resulting in lower carbon emissions.

Hydrogen can be made from the electrolysis of water by using renewable power. When the electrolysers absorb excess renewable power they are using energy that would otherwise be wasted.

Finally, a number of industries already produce large amounts of hydrogen as by-products that are often unused. This is another efficient way of using existing resources and reducing emissions.

Is hydrogen a safe fuel?

Hydrogen has been used for a wide variety of industrial applications for more than 100 years. Today, some 2,000 tonnes of hydrogen are transported annually on UK roads to customers. Hydrogen is abundant, non-toxic, colourless, odourless and tasteless, and is a clean, efficient and safe energy source. It is the lightest element in the world (even lighter than air), and if released into the atmosphere rises and dissipates quickly. Even if hydrogen does ignite, the low level of radiant heat emitted by the hydrogen flames means that nearby materials will be much less likely to ignite by heat transfer.

The main emissions of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells or hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engines are water or water vapour. The refuelling stations and vehicles using hydrogen will have been approved by the relevant safety authorities to stringent UK and international standards.

The UK H2Mobility participants recognise that the introduction of a new fuel will require rigorous safety standards to be drawn up and applied, commensurate with those already in place for petrol, diesel and LPG refuelling. Phase two work will include examination of what standards are already in place and identification of any gaps that need to be closed before any move to implementation.

Are hydrogen refuelling stations easy to use?

Yes. Refuelling an FCEV is a very similar process to filling up a conventional car with petrol or diesel, via a nozzle and fuel pipe.

Refuelling is quick and takes anywhere between 3 to 5 minutes.

Can hydrogen transport ever become mainstream?

For hydrogen transport to become mainstream, both Government and industry must work in partnership to provide not only the financial resources but also the policy framework to achieve ‘critical mass’ and encourage adoption of this new and sustainable technology.

As the network expands, economies of scale will drive costs down across the technology. As more refuelling facilities are installed, consumers will have the confidence that they will be able to refill their vehicles and so will start to purchase them.

Several major vehicle manufacturers are developing vehicles for market introduction as early as 2015, but both equipment and infrastructure need to be in place for the market to flourish.

Does hydrogen make economic sense as a fuel?

Developing and bringing any major new technology to the commercial market costs money, and hydrogen is no different. However, hydrogen has a key role to play in the future decarbonisation of the transport sector because it offers three significant benefits to the UK and to the wider, global economy:

  • Energy security. As hydrogen is widely available and can be produced from a wide variety of renewable processes, it offers independence from the over-reliance on energy imports from unstable economies.
  • Environment improvement. Decarbonising the transport sector will reduce emissions, limit the impact of potentially damaging climate change and improve human health well into the future. Hydrogen has a critical role to play in contributing to this.
  • Economic development. The UK has developed extensive expertise in the area of hydrogen and fuel cell electric vehicles technology. The development of a new hydrogen-based transport sector provides the opportunity to create new businesses, new jobs and wider economic growth for the UK.

Taking all these three factors into consideration, hydrogen transportation makes economic sense, and the involvement of key partners in the UK H2Mobility programme is a clear indication of this.