Are hydrogen vehicles about to hit our roads

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If footage of the China Winter Olympics 2022 has got you excited about the potential of hydrogen vehicles, then you will be pleased to hear that a new trial is starting in the UK in January 2023. First Hydrogen recently announced that their zero-emission light commercial vehicle (LCV) has been certified as legal by the Vehicle Certification Agency.

The trial is intended to last 2 years, with the vans being tested by major fleet operators from a variety of industries. The aim is to collate useful data and to test the potential of the vehicles for replacing the ageing diesel fleet that is currently in use on UK roads.

Advances in vehicle technology mean that hydrogen vehicles could represent the cleanest and most efficient form of transport, with the vehicles emitting only water from their exhausts, and due to their lighter chassis, being able to travel up to 400 miles on a single charge which takes a matter of minutes. The limiting factor to full implementation of a hydrogen fleet in the UK at present relates to the lack of publicly accessible charging points. If this trial is to be successful, this will be a critical point of assessment and investment.

H2 Mobility records only five hydrogen refuelling stations in mainland UK at present, which, despite being located at strategic points around London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Aberdeen, leaves venturing into much of England and Wales a somewhat risky and unattractive prospect to drivers of hydrogen vehicles. The introduction of the additional planned four refuelling stations will improve access across the northern and central belt, but it is unlikely that significant uptake will be seen in Wales and South West England unless significant investment is made to improve the infrastructure.

Motive Fuels, who run the sites, explained that in order to be viable, the footprint of the site needs to be large enough that it can be accessed by both cars and buses in order to improve uptake and reduce the overall running costs associated with the sites. They stated that lessons learnt from their experiences at the recently closed Cobham, Gatwick and Swindon sites will allow them to improve their delivery of this vehicle technology in a sustainable way. Improvements to the network are to be implemented in a carefully considered and strategic way.

It seems unlikely that we will see an immediate uptake in hydrogen vehicle technology in the UK in the near term, but this trial appears to be a sensible way of rolling out the technology, improving the refuelling network and laying the necessary foundations for these vehicles to gather momentum and become more publicly accessible over the next couple of years. It is very possible that they could overtake electric vehicle technology in the medium to long term, as well as replacing polluting petrol and diesel vehicles on our roads.

As the technology continues to be tested and refined in countries such as China and Germany, where it is already very popular, it is likely that costs will reduce, infrastructure will improve and acceptance will grow.

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May 2024