Where’s hydrogen going in the UK?

hydrogen station

Ever since green transportation came into the spotlight, there’s been a heated discussion about the most efficient way to curb our reliance on fossil fuels. Although electric vehicles (EVs) currently lead the pack, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) trail not too far behind. But the question remains: can HFCVs become a common sight on UK roads?

To delve into this, we must first comprehend the workings of HFCVs. These vehicles employ hydrogen gas as their primary fuel, stored in robust high-pressure tanks. A fuel cell within the car merges this hydrogen with oxygen from the atmosphere to generate electricity, which subsequently drives the electric motor of the vehicle. This process yields only water as a by-product, solidifying its standing as an eco-friendly technology. The refuelling procedure involves topping up the hydrogen gas tank at a station, a practice similar to traditional petrol or diesel refuelling, but with a drastically reduced carbon footprint.

Despite the impressive science behind HFCVs, their UK uptake has been relatively slow compared to EVs. The latter have benefitted from a speedy deployment, largely owing to their straightforward design, strong backing from public and private sectors, and a progressively efficient charging infrastructure. In contrast, HFCVs have been somewhat overlooked due to the substantial costs associated with the safe and efficient production, storage, and distribution of hydrogen.

Presently, the UK Government’s attention is centred on bolstering the electric charging network, leaving hydrogen fuel stations mostly confined to London and other major cities. This infrastructural imbalance poses a significant obstacle to the broader adoption of HFCVs.

Nonetheless, hydrogen’s inherent advantages – quick refuelling times and superior range – offer HFCVs potential in specific sectors, such as heavy-duty and long-haul transport. For these advantages to spur wider consumer acceptance, pivotal changes are necessary.

First and foremost, the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure must broaden to resolve the ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma: consumers hesitate to purchase HFCVs due to a scarcity of refuelling stations, while the limited number of HFCVs on the roads discourages investment in more stations.

Next, there needs to be a ramp-up in the production of green hydrogen. At present, most hydrogen is ‘grey’, derived from natural gas in a carbon-emitting process. ‘Green’ hydrogen, created via electrolysis powered by renewable energy, is the sustainable option, but production costs remain high.

Lastly, augmented public and private funding in hydrogen technologies is crucial to decrease the expenses associated with HFCVs, making them a more budget-friendly choice for consumers.

So – here’s the thing: while the EVs are charging forward in the UK, there’s a chance for hydrogen cars to carve out their own space, provided there’s adequate investment in infrastructure, green hydrogen production, and cost reduction. The journey towards a sustainable transport future might not be a single-direction path, but rather a multi-lane motorway, accommodating diverse technologies. Whether hydrogen cars will become mainstream in the UK is still uncertain, but their untapped potential is evident.