Hydrogen refuelling pump

Hydrogen infrastructure actions need to match net-zero ambitions

Image credit: Audioundwerbung/Dreamstime

As the dust settles on COP26, which countries are leading in hydrogen transport adoption?

The recent COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow shone a light on global net-zero initiatives, among them the need for governments around the world to invest in hydrogen-refuelling infrastructure if they’re going to move the dial on decarbonisation of the transport sector.

In the short term, hydrogen is expected to become more popular in medium- to heavy-duty vehicles; unlike their electric counterparts, the refuelling process represents a similar time commitment and experience to existing petrol and diesel vehicles. Although the technology is vastly different, hydrogen refuelling stations can operate in a similar way to the status quo, delivering equivalent refuelling times and ranges. There will be a market for smaller passenger vehicles, but heavy goods and larger passenger vehicles currently offer a greater opportunity for hydrogen.

Leading the way in the adoption of hydrogen transport are the regions and countries with defined hydrogen strategies and investment in place: Europe, China/south-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

In Europe, it is Germany, France and the Netherlands that have so far shown the greatest degree of leadership in the hydrogen refuelling sector, having published hydrogen strategies last year and already having tens of - or in Germany’s case a hundred - hydrogen stations in operation. In comparison, the UK announced its hydrogen strategy in August this year and has opened just 11 refuelling stations, underlining the fact that the country needs to catch up fast.

Europe currently has several projects in operation that aim to realise hydrogen-powered transport. H2Accelerate is an initiative focusing on creating hydrogen trucking at scale in Europe. This partnership involves truck manufacturers and hydrogen infrastructure providers seeking to enable a commercially viable system across the continent from 2030.

When it comes to buses, some European cities have been running them for a decade. For example, Aargau, in Switzerland, has been operating fuel cell buses (FCBs) since 2011, while several European cities have recently invested in hydrogen-powered fleets, including Barcelona and Lyon. In the UK, Aberdeen, Dundee, Liverpool, Birmingham and Brighton have all made similar investments or are planning to.

Many of these projects have been funded by the Joint Initiative for Hydrogen Vehicles across Europe (JIVE), which seeks to deploy 139 FCBs and refuelling infrastructure in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. A second project, JIVE2, began in January 2018. When combined, the JIVE programmes will create the largest deployment of FCBs in Europe: almost 300 FCBs in 22 cities by the early 2020s.

Closer to home, the UK government’s commitment to supply 4,000 zero-emission buses from 2021/22 [PDF] is a promising start, but an initiative that needs to be supported and developed.

Australia published its National Hydrogen Strategy [PDF] as early as 2019 and is prioritising hydrogen as a low-emissions technology. The government’s Low Emission Technology Statement [PDF] identifies the production of clean hydrogen under A$2 a kilogram as a priority stretch goal. Every state in the country has produced a hydrogen plan or strategy, and some have appointed a dedicated hydrogen minister.

New South Wales, for example, has just published its hydrogen strategy. As part of a A$3bn investment in the hydrogen industry, the state will make A$70m available for hydrogen hubs and the rollout of hydrogen refuelling stations. One of the projects highlighted in the strategy is the development by industrial gases specialist Coregas of Australia’s first commercial hydrogen refuelling station for HGVs at Port Kembla.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Hiringa Energy will install eight refuelling stations across the north and south islands from 2022, and 16 more from 2024. Hiringa is the first company in New Zealand to focus on supplying green hydrogen through a production and refuelling network designed for heavy-duty vehicles.

Hydrogen trade associations used COP26 to showcase the benefits of hydrogen, explaining how it can help governments and businesses to meet their net-zero goals. Governments must now take urgent action and realise that it is more important than ever to invest in and scale hydrogen infrastructure. Without hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in place, the huge potential for hydrogen to decarbonise the transport sector won’t be realised. If nations are to achieve their net-zero targets, their actions must match their ambitions.

Nick Power is hydrogen business development manager with Haskel Hydrogen Systems Group.

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